Making a backyard heaven the DIY way started with Peter and Lynn contacting me for a landscape design in the Foster Powell neighborhood. While they are solid DIYers, they also believe in getting professional help where it is needed. They wanted a designer who prefers collaboration with clients. Landscape Design in a Day creates the heart of the design with the clients at their home. This idea was appealing to them and so we found ourselves working together at the kitchen table.
This home, built in 1917, had existing plantings and my clients had furnishings they wanted to work into the design.
The back property line laurel hedge
The revered and large western red cedar
The old lilac trees for privacy in the summer
Their small apple tree
2 red Adirondack chairs
Free standing stumps to use for fire pit seating
All of the rough lawn, trees of heaven and other invasive weeds.
Design usable areas with good flow and good integration
A deck/back porch seating area, dining area for their
an improved fire pit area
Low water plants, raised beds for edibles
I wanted easy inviting access into the backyard. I designed a porch that serves 4 purposes: a threshold level for BBQ with a step down to seating (where we used the red Adirondacks) and built in their raised beds. I love that our BBQ area is large enough to comfortably pass the person doing the BBQing and to access the backyard.
I placed drought tolerant plants near the old cedar tree as that would be the best compatible planting companions for the tree.
The first time I saw the installation of the design was winter. I was so happy to see how the planters around the deck, which make the deck seem more like a porch to me and eliminate the need for railing…………were full of tall overwintering kale still being harvested in early February. Even in winter I could see what an excellent installation they had done. Peter’s only regret with his DIY work was that he did not get the exact crushed rock he requested from the local rock yard. The delivered product would not compact.
I loved how before the design, with the landscape more than a bit rough, Peter and Lynn would still sit out in the backyard even though they had no stairs from the house yet. We are all different but when you love being outdoors, having a fabulous backyard is very important. This garden calls them to come be outdoors. Time spent in this gardenly backyard and memories made are relished.
Peter says , “We’re very happy with the design and how everything came together.” Please see the front yard design we created together a few years after the back yard was installed. Sloped front yard landscape design for foster powell neighborhood home.
If you like to do it yourself but need a plan, contact me to make an appointment and start the landscape design process!
Case History: Portland infill home in Woodstock neighborhood needs a professional landscape design. The biggest problem for new infill homes with tiny yards is privacy.
Roger and Meghan, no dogs and no kids, had recently moved to Portland and purchased a new home in the Woodstock neighborhood. Roger wanted an interesting and easy care garden to putz in, colorful plantings and no lawn. Most of all they wanted privacy.
There were bad views on all three sides of the backyard. The house behind had a visually obnoxious roof and we could see their neighbors doing their dishes quite clearly in the evening. The house to the west had a shed which was useful for some privacy, but was infested with Norway rats. The owners were elderly and not keeping up with their home. It’s tough to start making demands of your new neighbors so most of my clients don’t. The house on the other side was also a new infill house and there was no privacy between the two properties.
I needed to create beautiful views to see from inside the house and from the back patio that would simultaneously create privacy and block bad views. The plants needed to grow quickly but not get too big for the tiny yard. There are not a lot of plants that will slow down once they are mature. Most will get too big too quickly.
I selected my trusty clumping bamboo-Fargesia ‘Robusta Campbell’ paired with an evergreen narrow semi dwarf Magnolia tree. The contrast between the feathery bamboo and the magnolia’s large dark green leathery leaves would have been exciting and this would have been a fast-growing solution. My clients decided against the bamboo because rats sometimes eat bamboo shoots and they didn’t want to encourage the rats to come into their yard. I substituted drought tolerant Boxleaf Tree-Azara Microphyla for the privacy screen and they were back on track. Azara has a tiny leaf and would contrast well with the Magnolia’s large leaf.
The back yard is all planting solution with a flagstone path that circles and dramatically frames a focal point planting. The path is wide enough to walk or to pull weeds from. Roger laid the flagstone himself.
I dropped by the following spring (I was next door creating a design for their neighbors) and saw the magnificent coral orange leaves of Japanese maple ‘Shaina’ with lime gold ground cover, (Saxifraga) and peach foliage coral bell. The emerging spring foliage puts on an intense and vibrant show. The new landscape has many seasons of beauty and the spring view is no exception.
Roger and Meghan are enjoying their new home and landscape and Roger enjoyed installing the garden so much he might take it on as a second career in addition to his professional photography. So far the rats have not caused a lot of problems………How Portland lives with, not against, its rats is a fascinating read.
The spring color vignette included:
Coral Bell ‘Marmalade’-Heuchera x ‘Marmalade’
Saxifraga x urbium ‘Aureopunctata’-Saxifrages ‘London Pride Aureopunctata’
Brunnera macro. ‘Jack Frost’-Bugloss ‘Jack Frost’
One September afternoon while in Portland’s Woodstock neighborhood I drove by a former client’s home. My clients had moved, and I was curious to see how the design (installed a dozen years ago) had held up. Once clients move I rarely have continuance with the landscape.
This drive by is a mixed bag.
Shade Tree for the backyard
The shade tree for the back yard is absolutely perfect, and exactly what I had envisioned. This is the part of drive bys I like the best. I used a Japanese Elm – Zelkova serrata variety called ‘Wireless’ because it’s one of the few shade trees that is compatible with lawn and ‘Wireless’ is the perfect shape and size to provide shade for city landscapes.
Their leaves are smaller than most shade trees and allow dapples of sunlight through the canopy to the lawn while filtering out the heat. The exaggerated vase shape of the tree also allows light to come in under the tree in the morning and late afternoon. This tree provides shade to the south facing deck and the back of the house. It will get over 30’ wide at the top. It matures at 25’ tall so it is a tree that will be wider than it is tall.
If you are a discerning shade aficionado you will say hmmm…… the shade tree doesn’t have low branches so how can you sit on the back deck and have dinner without being blinded by the south sun? We kept a mature mixed hedge at the back of the property and it will block those dinner hour sun rays. The shade tree will filter the hottest sun of the day.
Privacy Screen Planting for side yard
Less successful is the privacy screen planting for the side yard. I used a narrow variety of Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus ‘Franz Fontaine’) to block the view of the neighbor’s driveway and their vehicles and also to create an attractive view from the bedroom windows. For the design to be functional, the Hornbeam would need to be pruned once or twice a year to become a 10’ narrow wall of thick leaves. The maintenance did not happen since my clients moved. Now the side yard privacy screen is wildly out of scale and the charm is gone.
Chris and Jennifer of North Portland contacted me for help with their large shady back yard.
They were overwhelmed with the high maintenance of lawn under huge trees. They wanted a back yard for entertaining a large family (with lots of adult kids and future grand kids). They wanted to DIY and had a strict budget, so spending 20 grand on a concrete patio was not realistic. Views over the fence included other neglected yards and they had a large (evil) tree of heaven that had to go. Many plants had died or looked leggy and sun starved.
The back yard was longer than deep and made creating a design on their own more difficult.
My best contributions were getting the shapes of the new rooms to work with their long but shallow yard. Introducing them to the concept of using cedar chips as their primary surface for entertaining and paths was a perfect fit also. It looks great with their NW Natural style landscape, it’s affordable and it’s very easy to care for. If you get the right kind of chips you can even use a leaf blower on them and they don’t blow away.
We tucked different outdoor rooms into the perimeter of the landscape and kept the existing small concrete patio as a spacious entry to the house and the BBQ center. No more trying to fit a dining table on it as they had done before the design.
The plant selection was also critical. Shade plants had to survive on the water the big trees would let them have so our palette needed to be all low water plants. We used a lot of sword ferns and kept native plants wherever possible.
On the south end we used one of my favorite little evergreen trees, Boxleaf Azara – Azara Microphylla. They planted them up on a berm which made them taller and helped do a faster job of screening out the neighbors garage wall. Planting Azaras up on a berm prevents root rot since these plants do not tolerate poor drainage.
Their DIY install of the landscape turned out fantastic. They loved their back yard. When change came along, and they had to put their house on the market, the yard was another major asset and selling point. These photos, which they took, are from their marketing page.
I especially love the hammock room. The fire pit patio is clearly the largest entertaining area and is used for lounging with or without a fire. Their fire pit patio is a crushed rock surface, not cedar chips.
The chips continue around to the side yard gate and match the rest of the now low maintenance landscape.
“Carol understood us and got our style for a NW Natural landscape design for our North Portland yard. We were very happy that she surpassed our expectations for low maintenance, no lawn, great textured plantings, backyard design. She understood that we wanted to do some of the work ourselves and helped us make a beautiful-yard-on-a-budget a reality.”