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Garden design tips

Garden ideas for Tacoma and Olympia

We came back from the 2021 Portland Landscape Architecture + Design Tour with some great pictures to help you with some design choices in your own garden. We managed to see eight of the nine gardens on display (we had six hours to do it and some gardens were 30 minutes of more apart from each other). We were pretty excited to see as much as we did. Following are photos and notes of what we liked.

We not always a huge fan of modern design, because many folks make these gardens look more like a quilt or a grange’s county fair display. But this work by Fusion Landscape Design rooted their work to form a solid, strongly structured composition that had us standing across the street looking for the secrets that made this design work. We walked away convinced it was the repetition of miscanthas grass moving in perpendicular fashion and mirrored through the back gate, as well as the second tier of the front beds plus the steps down from the door forming the basic principals of the Golden Ratio, offset, by the front row of grass, closest to the street, split in a different geometry. The whole thing is a lovely movement rooted in classic shapes. We also loved how the designer took the age-old concrete steps that are a fixture of the neighborhood, which harkens back to the 1940’s, and repeated that style in the backyard, plus, whimsically, brought the line under the fence to the front. Here are three other photos from the garden …

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This garden designed by Olivine Land showed us a couple things we found delightful. First, we loved the off-kilter facing half circle shapes formed in a rectangle side yard (try saying that ten times fast). This creates great movement and unpredictability plus runs counter to its location to the street that runs straight on both sides. Second, here is an awesome use of pampas grass in a layered bed … loved it!! Here are a couple other beds created by Land on this property …

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How about a 60 foot putting green in your yard? The folks at GRO Outdoor Living put this bad boy on the third level of a retained backyard. Not only was that super cool, but check out the outdoor speakers.

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Talk about an awesome focal point. Casa Smith Designs put this in a Lake Oswego home to provide a wonderful mid-break in the long view from the house and front patio down to the lake. Breaking up a long view to let the eyes rest for a moment is a key design concept. This fountain was perfectly set to the scale of the front yard and house which makes such a large one work (you can’t carry this off in a smaller space). The proportions of this focal point are spot on!!! Here is what we also like about this design. Check out the orange edging on the circle drive. The contrast to the other colors are stellar, but also complimentary to some of the orange colors in the other stone.

Moving on to the next house …

Bethany Rydmark :: Landscapes tackled a small backyard for homeowners looking to mix a Mediterranean feel with Scandinavian influences, calling it Puglia surrounded by coastal Denmark. The paths are a nod to Danish runes with sharp angles and natural stone (incredibly unique and well executed) while the plants are for a drier climate packed with grasses and sun loving perennials and shrubs (and a few ferns in the shady spots). It’s a lovely balance. Here is more …

Also from Rydmark …

This Beverton home is a combo of formal and informal that is solidly rooted in the space offering a balanced left and right but not a 100% mirror on both sides … which is what makes it so well designed. There is just enough formal structure to make us feel safe and comfortable in the space, but entertained by the whimsy at the same time. We are also huge fans of sitting spaces further inside a garden to move the homeowner into the entire space and not just an observer from inside or the main deck. The garden also features a nice cutting garden with fountain …

And now for something a little different …

This is not a garden installation by a designer … it is a designers garden that has been curated for 18 years. Which is so cool it was included on the tour because for many of us designers, we cut our teeth in our own spaces where we’ve had the benefit of years to work the space. This garden in Clackamas by 4 Seasons Gardens is a delightful peak into an Asian-themed space that has been tinkered with by a professional for decades. The layers, hardscapes, dry creek bed, art and more bring all of the key elements of design into a classroom. This is a study in texture, color, shape, scale, and so much more. A treasure!!

The homeowner in this north Portland home says they wanted a drought-resistant garden with a beach theme, and the designers at LEVER Architecture accomplished that in spades. Working around the sides and back of the house are vignettes of beachy grasses with dark railings and burndt orange screens. The effect is marvelous. On the shady side the grass gets more lush, as seen here …