Designer Perspective: Building an Audubon Certified Backyard Habitat

One of my favorite parts of building gardens is the opportunity to connect people to place in a new way. And what better way to make that connection than through the goal of creating habitat.

(Read: Tips for Building an Audubon Certified Backyard Habitat)

Here is an inside look on how I made that project happen:



We made an effort to choose boulders whose forms could talk to one another . Our goal in placing the boulders was to give the impression they had always been there, while leaving space for tiered plantings of woodland natives like wild ginger, redwood sorrel, and deer fern.  It’s a bonus that Rigby the pooch likes to hang out there, too.




This part of the garden is very soft and green, so the scarlet monkeyflower blooms are a welcome burst of energy in the summer. Placing them close to the water feature is a gift to hummingbirds and insect pollinators, who can stop to feed on the monkeyflower nectar and also get a drink of water.




I love the vibe of the patio at night, under the shelter of the neighboring tree canopy. We worked with Tim O’Neil at Portland’s Alameda Metalworks to design a steel fire bowl that gives off light and heat both vertically and horizontally. The stacked rings of the fire bowl create parallel stripes of fire and steel that are beautiful at night.




Instead of a sparse tic-tac-toe board of plants in the garden, I prefer undulating waves of dense plantings that collide and interact in interesting ways.  Dense plantings encourage wildlife habitat, regenerate depleted soils, and deter weed seeds from germinating.




During the renovation, we transplanted a pair of blueberry bushes from the front yard, placing them right next to the formal path so anyone visting the garden at the right time of year can pluck a berry as they wander through. Like a berry drive-thru! In the fall their leaves turn a beautiful, fiery red.




The yard we started with was quite flat, so part of our job was to break up the uniformity in order to create unique spaces. This central bed connects different areas of the garden and is inspired by the Mt Hood wilderness. I pruned an overgrown creeping Juniper to resemble the windswept Junipers that live on the mountain. The result creates a gentle, elegant focal point in the garden. Exposed branches and boulders provide nesting sites for native burrowing bees.




This calm gathering space was actually a no-man’s land behind two garages. We unearthed a bunch of old bricks and also some extremely weathered, partially rotten Doug fir beams while digging around in the space. We made the fir beams into benches with help from Chris Sanderson at Builder-by-Bike in Portland. The bricks tie together this small space so well because they had a beautiful, worn surface that instantly invited mosses and lichens.  I wanted the space to have a feel of a sanctuary, or shrine, and the small rock bubbler helps create that atmosphere.




The goal for this planting is to give the appearance of gems spilling out of a large rock, as if you stumbled onto a hidden treasure, or a portal to another planet.The fiery red flower is a pineleaf Penstemon, one of my favorite desert wildflowers.




This is what you see when passing by on the sidewalk.  It’s an intriguing blend of public and private. The goal for the planting design was to create a sense of celebration through color, while softening the harder surfaces of stone and concrete.  The cedar pergola defines the outdoor room without getting too heavy or overly ornate.  Sun is strong for most of the day here, and I chose narrow, square, cedar rails for the top of the pergola to cast dramatic shadows at different times of day as the sun moves around the sky.  The canvas curtains are striped to echo this effect.

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