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Archive for small back yard

Landscape Remodel for Woodlawn Neighborhood Back Yard

Woodlawn neighborhood before photo of landscape design projectAffordable Landscape Remodel for Woodlawn Neighborhood Back Yard

My new clients have a corner lot in the Woodlawn neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. They were referred by their friend Julia whose Rose City neighborhood landscape I had designed. The flow of this back yard just didn’t work.  They didn’t have anywhere to enjoy sitting outside. They tried to imagine a new design but the house and property would not cooperate. I have felt this sort of surliness from a house in the past. The house crosses its arms and says I will not let you change me. Okay that’s a little weird but this was one of those times.

Designers Site Assessment

The yard area between the driveway and kitchen door on the west side is small and well past its maximum uses. It has the back porch, a planting area with a fig tree, a basement door, a garage door and a door to the mud room and kitchen. Each door requires transportation space to access it. They were trying to use the small back porch to BBQ and sit out on but in addition to being way too small, it was hot as Hades in the summer. The sunny south side yard was narrow but had no easy access to the kitchen. The door you see above leads to the basement, not the house, so they did not use the side yard.

Landscape designers know that a great design is all about how you move through a space and this yard needed someone to treat it like the Rubik cube it was and explore what was possible.

Client Want List

split level deck maximizes space in small NE Portland back yardThey wanted a place to BBQ and sit outside in cool shade.  Their small porch radiated heat and baked in the summer. They wanted shade and plantings that would bring birds and life into the landscape, plants for low water and oh did I mention SHADE? They wanted to use their south side yard for something but it had no easy access to the kitchen and had an extensive french drain to work around. They wanted absolutely no lawn and any new plantings to be low maintenance.

Design Solutions

We created many different layouts for the property searching for the best use of space. We all liked the design that replaced the tiny existing porch with a multi-level deck/porch. We  took out the planting bed with the fig tree. This allowed us to add a new lower level “dining” deck all the way to the fence and put the BBQ function on the upper level. Dan could not believe how much wasted space they had in the old layout and how much room they gained in the new one. But how would we provide shade to this baking area?

Getting great shade exactly where my clients wanted it was challenging. Designing overhead cover options for the new expanded 2 level porch was going to add another 8 to 15 grand. Our obvious choices were:

an arbor with canvas shade cloth – expensive

a large retractable awning – expensive

a very large tree (price tag installed at 8 to 10 grand)

After landscape design brings life to narrow side yard

Progress photo from D & J Landscape Contractors shows our two young shade trees and the partially completed new deck

The answer came from an unexpected place.

South Side Yard to the Rescue

After Alana and I flipped several layout drawings every which way, we discovered there was a perfect spot just around the house corner begging to be a small patio. We could plant a tree between this small patio sitting area and the SW sun to provide shade the very first summer. Our clients could use their new dining deck the first year on cooler days and use the new side yard patio for hot days. This small stone patio will have shade quickly. Which left us free to purchase our primary shade tree (to shade the porch) at an affordable size. We planted a 3″ caliper tree at about 12′ feet tall.

It will be 5 years before this tree provides much cooling. They will have to use an umbrella now and in ten years they will have the shade they want.

(Alana Chau was my apprentice for this Landscape Design in a Day and is now my design associate.)

The dry well and french drains were a little tricky for us. By law, landscape designers cannot make changes to drainage or make recommendations. We had to create solutions that would not disturb the drains. We knew our favorite licensed landscape contractor, Donna Burdick, would be able to simplify some of the restrictions we were given by our clients regarding the existing drain systems. Happily, our clients decided to hire Donna of D & J Landscape Contractors for the install.  She had installed the design for their friend Julia as well. Donna was able to improve the grade and lessen the volume of water to the dry well which gave us more room for our plantings.

New side yard patios create faster shade for clientsThe Side Yard Comes to Life

By adding a small stone patio along the side of the house and making a raised garden bed for the plants, we gave our clients a reason to enjoy their side yard which previously had been a dead zone. Dan says, “it’s so much better being back here because it is so much more alive. Now there are birds and bees in the garden.”  This planting area includes pollinator friendly cone flower, lavander and nearby native plants such as vine maple, ocean spray, salal and sword fern. We included a manzanita for hummingbirds and winter flowers.

Trees 

I confess I agonized over the selection. I wanted to use a Kentucky Coffee tree for its fast shade and strong wood but could not find one big enough to start with. I also toyed with an unusual evergreen oak but it grew too slowly. I finally went with a Japanese Elm, Zelkoua serrata ‘City Sprite’ because I could find it in the perfect size for planting and it would not get too wide for the space between the garage and the second story of the house. The “surprise patio” tree is a Cornelian Cherry, proper name is Cornus Mas and it is an unusual form of dogwood. It’s a wonderful tree for birds, handles hot sun well or part shade and will be a smaller round headed tree.

After residentail landscape design creates spacious and welcoming entry

Welcome home entry area has room to move an attractive gate and a (white tag) dwarf fig tree.

The Family Entry

Before driveway leaves little room for entry to the back yard

Before our Landscape Design in a Day process, the driveway space is a little tight.

The driveway didn’t have enough room to get out of the car comfortably because of the location of the fence and gate. I have to comment that my clients were fine with the tight access from the car. I am the one that felt it was too tight. It was hard for them to believe that giving up 18″ of their precious deck dining area could possibly be smart. However, they were  sure they only needed room for 4 people on the dining deck and that 90% of the time it would be 2. That gave me a stronger reason to gently push my idea about a spacious entry area from the driveway. Christie was the one who parked in the driveway and I think maybe she thought I was nuts at first. Happily they went for adding the additional space to the driveway area which gave us room to set the new gate at a welcoming 45 degree angle. They still had comfortable access into their new back yard whether carrying groceries or something more complicated. They lost their existing fig tree to the new dining deck –  it was extra sweet to find the perfect spot for a fig tree in the new design.

Materials used in the design

Variegated Lavender Blue stone for the dry set flagstone patio and path

Cedar decking 2 x 6

Deck stain brand is Storm – color is cedar

1/4″ minus compacted crushed rock for the paths

Woodlawn home gets Mossy rock delivery for new landscapeMossy rock for the raised planting bed -It has a rustic feel to it that I like and it will moss up nicely.  It also has the advantage of being lighter than basalt so easier for the contractors to bring in and use.

Check out the beautiful gate!!!

Cable railing for the deck; Dan says the open cable railing makes the whole garden feel like one space including the deck. He loves it.

For more information on how I can help you with affordable landscaping at your home, fill out my contact form.

 

 

Privacy for Tiny Urban Back Yard in Buckman Neighborhood

Tiny Buckman Neighborhood Backyard needs Hardscape Landscaping

After photo of tiny urban back yard in Buckman neighborhoodMy client’s 1909 house fills most of his 36’ by 100’ lot. My mission?  Transform his tiny narrow utilitarian “yard” into a private and relaxing place to be for summer. He was especially interested in finding a designer with a close working relationship with an installer.  He didn’t want to end up with a great design and no one trusty to install it.

Client want list

Before photo of tiny urban back yard in Buckman Neighborhood needing hardscape landscaping.Usable private outdoor sitting space for 2 with a meditative and natural feel

Hide the garbage cans from sitting area but keep easy access

Privacy from south and west neighbors’ windows

Very low maintenance

Dog friendly

Use plants that remind him of nature

Use the most environmental materials and low water plants.

Designers Perspective on the existing site

My client was making do with a 3’ x 3’ private sitting area. It was only private with the back of his Adirondack chair tight to the fence. The neighboring houses had large windows and “looked” down into the tiny yard and one of the garages (happily with no windows) sat on the property line and was part of the yard enclosure.

He loved the neighbor’s large and mature cherry tree. There was a high 30’ long single branch whose side branches provided cool shade all along the back of the house. They were beautiful to look up into, but the branches were too high to provide privacy. I think there is something very inviting about being under tree branches. The downside was the sticky cherry pits.

Dog Friendly

After photo close up of hardscape landscaping stone planters with privacy tree just installed Buckman Neighborhood

Look closely for the ‘Pacific Fire’ Vine Maple privacy tree with coral red tiny trunk

Many city dogs spend a lot of time on walks and at the park so the small yard would not be his primary exercise or potty area.  Initially we talked about using my happy dog cedar chips as an easy care and affordable surface, but we decided flagstone would be easier for cleaning up the sticky cherry pits and be better for re sale value.

Creating a private sitting area

How small can you go? I prefer an 8 x 8-foot minimum area to fit a 36” table w 4 chairs. While space for 2 was fine with my client, we agreed space for 4 would add re sale value.

Where should our sitting area go?

The narrow back yard was eliminated because there were too many unknowns as to what we could do with the exterior of the neighbors’ garage. So, we circled back to the side yard for our private area. There were many problems to solve to make this area work.

After photo in Urban Back yard Buckman Neighborhood with hardscape landscaping

Carol LIndsay, Landscape Design in a Day

This was the widest area available at 8’ x 9’, just right for our private sitting area but it had the disconnected downspout extension sticking out into the walking area by a foot. It was a trip hazard. The path to the front yard and garbage cans cuts through this area. Once I remembered my client took out his garbage from the front door, I was confident we could make our sitting area on the side.

My privacy solution was multi-purpose

I used two large stone planters at 18” high with a wall cap for sitting.  Our screening plant material is planted at 18” above grade and gives our plants a boost so they will be tall enough to create some privacy in the first two years. Another advantage to the planters is our plants won’t be competing with the mature cherry tree roots.

We needed privacy screening in the 8 -10-foot range but for summer months only. Most people don’t sit out in their courtyard here in Portland in the winter months. It’s important to know whether I want evergreen or deciduous screening. If I only want summer privacy, I can use a deciduous small tree. They provide privacy faster because they are typically round headed and make screening right where we want it.  An evergreen conifer is very narrow at the top, so it takes years to get the screening where we want it and there are very few small fast growing leafed evergreen trees for shade.

Privacy from kitchen back door window

I did want evergreen for the view from kitchen. I used shade tolerant Azara microphylla – Box leaf tree.  It’s one of very few leafed evergreens with the right shape that is fast growing.   The attractive stone planters add an inviting presence from the tiny back porch and make a second sitting area.

Hiding the garbage cans

I created two wood screens to hide the garbage that can be walked around, setting them 6 feet apart makes for a very comfortable access.  The simple screens match the existing fence.

After photo of hardscape courtyard for tiny urban back yard in Buckman neighborhood

Before photo of tiny urban back yard in Buckman Neighborhood

Trip hazard solved

The trip hazard downspout extension had to go away. It stretched across the only access path area between the kitchen door and the new private sitting area. Happily, Donna Burdick D & J Landscape Contractors was able to design a solution.  She installed one of the new flow wells.  Now the water from the downspout goes under the stone path and into the flow well unobtrusively.  The flow well has a tiny little cap for cleaning out. These kinds of solutions allow us to use the square footage available to the client.

This garden design is very simple, and the solutions consist more of hardscape then they do from plants. This is perfect for my client.  Over ‘gardenifying’ this landscape would not have been in his best interests. Having said that, I will be happy when the small trees, ferns and ground covers mature and bring more life to the courtyard. On planting day, it looks a little skimpy on the planting side of our design.

The cool back yard area was not neglected even though it may never become a sitting area for my client.  We created 2 different design ideas for the 7’ deep back yard.  Both added a small tree to block the large window on the far end of the corridor like yard and this planting area was installed.  Halfway through the installation he learned the neighbor was remodeling the old garage which sits on the property line into an ADU.  Our client decided not to change anything else there. Once it’s finished, he may consider integrating the back yard into the new landscaping.

Client Comments

“From the concept and design through implementation, I really appreciated Carol’s understanding of my needs and desires, and her ability to think outside the box on my behalf for a solution for a small tight space that suited me. The design kit, survey and phone interviews gave me a sense of ownership of the project. Carol’s expectations and availability were clear. My advice is to spend some time on the kit and bring your ideas to vet with Carol. Seeing the outcome, my only regret is that I didn’t commit to this project years earlier”.  Ben

I love challenging landscapes.  Contact me with your twisty little yard and let’s find a great design that makes best use of your property. Whether small or large, your landscape can be made to suit your lifestyle with hardscape and landscaping. Go to my Contact Page for more info.

Landscape Designer:  Carol Lindsay of Landscape Design in a Day

Landscape Contractor:  Donna Burdick of D & J landscape Contractors

 

Materials used

Planters-Concrete pavers with an 8” concrete cap

Sitting area surface – Variegated Lavender Blue Stone Flagstone mortar set

Garbage can area surface – Fiberx Cedar Chips

Wood screens to hide garbage cans were built to go with the existing fencing and are simple cedar boards.  Our client plans to use an oil to preserve the wood once the dry weather arrives.

Flow well

 

Plants

Acer circinatum ‘Pacific Fire’

Azara microphylla – Box leaf Azara

Pacific Northwest Native Plants: Vaccinium ovatum – Huckleberry, Polystichum munitum – Sword Fern, and Dicentra formosana – Bleeding heart, various maidenhair fern and groundcovers

Portland Backyard Landscape Design Renovation in Foster Powell Neighborhood

Portland Backyard Landscape Design Renovation

Foster Powell Backyard Before Landscape Design Portland Oregon

Before Landscape Design

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.

Client desires

This home, built in 1917, had existing plantings and my clients had furnishings they wanted to work into the design.

Foster Powell Backyard after landscape design using existing elements and plants in Portland OregonWe kept:

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

Existing Red Adirondack Chairs to use in the new backyard landscape design in Foster Powell backyard landscape design in Portland OregonA picnic table

Free standing stumps to use for fire pit seating

We removed

All of the rough lawn, trees of heaven and other invasive weeds.

They wanted

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

Designers take

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.

Foster Powell backyard landscape design with picnic table in Portland Oregon

We kept the existing apple tree and it is thriving next to red umbrella.

Foster Powell back yard with existing apple tree before landscape design in Portland OregonAt ground level I created 2 more outdoor rooms: a dining area big enough for the extra-large picnic table and a fire pit.

Honor the old native cedar tree

I placed drought tolerant plants near the old cedar tree as that would be the best compatible planting companions for the tree.

My first peek at the finished landscape design

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.

Clients comment and link to their front yard landscape design

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!

Portland Landscape Design creates privacy for small city backyard in Woodstock neighborhood

Portland Landscape Design creates privacy for small city backyard in Woodstock neighborhood

Colorful small tree for Woodstock neighborhood backyardCase 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.

Solving Privacy Issues-It’s about making a beautiful view

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.

Portland Residential Landscape Design Woodstock neighborhood before back yard landscape designDesigners Viewpoint on Screening Plants

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.

Intricate path design in Woodstock neighborhood Portland, ORPath as a design feature for a small yard

 

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.

Intricate garden path in Portland garden designPlants with vibrant spring color

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.

Portland Residential Landscape Design Woodstock neighborhoodRoger 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.

Plant List

Backyard planting in Woodstock neighborhood Portland, OregonThe spring color vignette included:

Japanese maple ‘Shaina’ – Acer Palmatum ‘Shaina’

Coral Bell ‘Marmalade’-Heuchera x ‘Marmalade’

Saxifraga x urbium ‘Aureopunctata’-Saxifrages ‘London Pride Aureopunctata’

Brunnera macro. ‘Jack Frost’-Bugloss ‘Jack Frost’

 

 

Landscape Designer’s Thoughts on Firepit Placement

Hardscape Landscaping Tips for your Firepit

Firepit with a gas line for Portland back yard landscape design Grant Park

Grant Park landscape design for back yard with gas firepit in NE Portland

A Portland residential landscape designer shares her thoughts about placing a firepit.

My client Lisa had a dream about sitting out in her garden even when it’s cold.  I was enthusiastic until I heard she wanted a fixed location firepit.  I’m a little nervous about long term commitments when they come to firepits.  I’ve seen too many whose poor placement ruined the flow of the entire back yard.  It can be awkward to use and too expensive to remove and correct.  Here’s how I think about it.

The Firepit Must Be Integrated into the Design

The fire pit must be visually subordinate to the overall garden design.  It’s easy to get excited about a firepit and forget about the other purposes of the backyard.

Firepit and back yard Landscape Design in a Day Grant Park Portland Oregon

Grant Park back yard landscape design with gas firepit

It must be integrated into the design and must work well with the other functions of an outdoor living room. For instance, there has to be ample room between the firepit area and the dining area or it feels clunky and cramped.  Lisa’s dining table is on her deck so we had no crowding issues.

Watch out for Pointing Corners

When the firepit is a square or a rectangle we need to be sure the corners are not pointing at the door to the house. Walking toward a strong point doesn’t feel inviting, it’s a basic feng shui principle that is very powerful and I keep a “sharp” eye out to avoid this problem in all my designs.

 

Portland back yard with pavers, fire pit and bird feeding patio in Arbor Lodge Strong Contrast

I prefer the materials for the firepit and the patio hardscape have strong contrast.  The patio surface is square concrete pavers so we went with a multiple sized natural stone for the firepit walls.  This is important.  It will look outright bad in my opinion, if this contrast is not factored into material choices.  Concrete paver for the patio and then repeating something similar or worse, matching is my idea of a mistake.

Visual Integration

The way I made the firepit subordinate visually was easy since Lisa is a serious gardener……….by which I mean she is knowledgeable but very serious about having fun with her plants. There are 4 rooms to this garden. The firepit, the bird sanctuary patio, the existing rustic deck, and the raised sun garden. The plants weave in and out of these rooms softening the entry to each

Water for birds and bees in Arbor Lodge landscape design Portland Oregon

Froggy Art

room and integrating them into one garden. I also love how the angle of the firepit wall leads the eye straight to the bird sanctuary patio.

We worked closely with D & J Landscape Contractors and NW Natural gas company for Lisa’s gas firepit. She met with the gas company and made the final decisions. The result is fabulous. It’s large enough to provide real heat and the ambiance it creates is so welcoming.

Landscape East & West, a large local landscape installation company has a blog regarding fire pits.

If you have a landscaping project that you want to include hardscape to, contact me for an appointment.