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Must love dogs: a designer creates a relaxed, low-water landscape for a Portland homeowner--and her three canine companions.

"CAN YOU MAKE IT FABULOUS?" Landscape architect Karen Ford says most design consults begin the way this one did--with that simple request. But "fabulous," it turned out, was just the start: The Portland homeowner, a nongardener, also wanted her landscaping to be low-water and low-maintenance, with areas for her to relax and her three dogs to romp.

Up to the challenge, Ford fashioned circular landing pads filled with decomposed granite for lounging and dining in the backyard, edged by easy-care evergreen shrubs, perennials, and grasses, all soft and sturdy enough to withstand the dogs--two Labra-doodles and a Chihuahua. "Usually I tell my clients that dogs and gardens don't go together, but we left unplanted, unpaved space for them to run around," says Ford. "Of course, I don't let them sit out and dig all day," says the homeowner. "But even with the dogs out there a lot, the yard always looks good."


Playful geometry breaks the backyard into dining and seating circles. Fat, dwarf Atlantic white cedars (Chamaecyparis thyoides 'Heather Bun') enclose the 10-foot-wide dining area, while ornamental grasses, shrubs, and perennials define the 12-foot-wide seating space. A flowering cherry (Prunus serrulata 'Kwanzan') shades both circles.


Along the side of the house, large clumps of maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Adagio') are the perfect height to provide greenery without blocking the view from the windows. Pink-hued plumes will emerge later in summer. The grass holds its shape all winter and needs just one shearing in early spring.


A 4-inch-thick layer of bark mulch along with hard-packed decomposed granite keep the unplanted expanses weed-free. With that kind of open space to play, the three dogs haven't done any harm to the garden's plantings.


In the front yard, Ford installed a meadow of no-mow fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hameln') instead of turf, for lower water usage and maintenance. Purple smoke tree (Cofinus 'Grace') and river birch (Betula nigra) flank the entry. Evergreen manzanita (Arcfostaphylos x densiflora 'Austin Griffiths') and dwarf Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides 'Iceberg') fill in near the house.


Always have a place for dogs to run and exercise. Long paths at least 3 feet wide are best.

Use paw-friendly paving materials, such as splinter-free bark mulch and flagstone.

Choose plants with soft, sturdy foliage, such as ornamental grasses, that can stand up to dogs without injuring them.

Remember that like humans, dogs appreciate a shaded spot.

Visit plants for a complete list of plants that are poisonous to pets.


In the side yard, a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'Beni Otake'), which has been pruned flat, and heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica 'Plum Wine') screen dining room windows from a neighbor's house. They shade bishop's hat (Epimedium warleyense) and Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macro 'Aureola').


Tough and hard to kill--that's what makes these some of landscape architect Karen Ford's favorites.

Sedum pachyclados 'White Diamond'

This sedum, placed at the edge of the beds, doesn't break despite the occasional encounter with a dog.

Stewartia pseudocamellia

Ford loves this small tree, at the back of the garage, for its reliable upright form, sweet flowers, and fall color.

Rosa 'Dr. Robert Korns'

This repeat bloomer, which grows on a railing, is no fuss--Ford has never seen any disease on this variety.

Photography by JON JENSEN
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Title Annotation:IDEA GARDEN; Karen Ford
Author:McCausland, Jim
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2015
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