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For a couple of months you worked with Ross NW Watergardens on a landscape design. Then you signed off on a contract to install the landscape. You waited even longer for your slot in the schedule to arrive. Now, finally, it is time to plant. Guess what?

Some of the plants, so carefully chosen, are not available. Why?

To the nursery business plants are inventory, and any business can run low on inventory. If Home Depot runs out of a certain door they have to order more. If the door manufacturer has run out it may take a while for more to make their way to a store. Nurseries are like this- only worse.

Plants take time to grow. Perennials, like pansies, may take only a couple of weeks or months. Ornamental grasses, like Japanese Forest Grass, may take a few months to a year. Bushes and trees may have to grow in a nursery for multiple years before they can be sold!

But don’t nurseries know how many plants they should be growing?

Growing plants is big business. Growers plan very carefully and try to forecast demand. But it isn’t a science, and many things can go wrong. For example:

  • A recession can hit, causing everyone to slow down their growing. Nurseries sell off stock at low prices to stay in business. This happened not that long ago. When building rebounds demand spikes (as it has been for quite a while now) but supply is not ready to meet all the demand.

  • A plant’s popularity can rise quicker than growers expect, or remain high for so long that supply gets drained. Dwarf Pagoda Holly and Coral Bark Japanese Maples are good examples of this.

  • Plants can be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The plants you want may be available- 15 states away. By the time they are going to be in Oregon your project will be completed.

What do we do when your plant variety is not available?

In most cases there are similar and suitable plants that are available. We will simply plant one of these instead. There are times where only one plant will do, so we wait for it. But be prepared to be patient. It could be weeks or even months before the plant is in town and ready for purchase.

When you work with Ross NW Watergardens you can be sure you will always get great plants- just not always the exact variety you were hoping for!

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Wineries rely on the function of plants in the vineyard. Visiting a winery is about being close to the people and plants that make the wine happen, so it is not a surprise that the gardens around wineries are often very thoughtfully designed.

Ross NW Watergardens has two vineyard - winery projects in the pipeline, one a home above a couple’s winery and the other a new garden at a winery that is soon to be built. Wondering what design principles come into play? There are three things we have learned while planning for these projects.

Winery Landscape Design Principles:
  1. Design a garden for the wine consumers, not the wine makers. Niche vintners are passionate about their vineyards, grapes, and wine. They are equally as passionate about their customers, perhaps even viewing them as partners. Branding and marketing are carefully crafted. The landscape should fit the customers, the branding, the marketing. The winery, the wine bottles and their labels, and the landscape should all feel like one experience.

  2. Design a garden that will improve with age. It makes sense, right? Wine improves with time, and making wine is a long term endeavor. Don’t over plant, don’t plant trees that will outgrow the space, and don’t use man made materials that quickly look faded and old. Use boulders, stone, naturally long lasting woods (juniper, cedar, ipe) to create spaces that mature as the elements do their work.

  3. Keep water use and maintenance requirements very low. Sustainability is important to wine makers and consumers. The garden can signal a commitment to that. Design for a time when the winery has less resources for the garden, perhaps because they are expanding or the market is slumping. A well thought out design can be beautiful but not needy. Let’s do that.

You might notice that none of the above addresses style or aesthetic. There is no one style that fits a winery. There are great Japanese Gardens at wineries, like this one by Hoichi Kurisu at Saffron Fields Winery:

Argyle Winery has a new landscape done by Sean Hogan of Cistus Nursery that defies categorization by prioritizing xeric plantings. (Check it out here.)

Style will follow the identity the winery has established, or hopes to establish. It is wise to find a designer who has a portfolio that really fits what the winery is trying to say. Thing Ross NW Watergardens might be the design-build firm you need? Contact Ben Bowen today and set up a design consultation.

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You are working with a great landscape designer or landscape architect (hopefully us) . Like all specialists your designer is proficient in the jargon of the trade- and sometimes doesn’t even realize they are using it.

The terms below are commonly used in the landscape industry here in the Pacific Northwest. Feel free to use this list to ensure you understand your designer or to impress them with your expertise.

Landscape Design Terms With Definitions

- A -

Aeration, Aerator - The process of changing soil so more oxygen can enter, usually by using an aerator, which is a machine that pulls cores from the ground. In Portland we will normally be discussing aerating a lawn that is having trouble taking in soil and water. When should you aerate a lawn? Answer here.

Aggregate - Fractured or rounded stone used as a footing, sub-base, or decorative surface. The most common aggregates in Portland landscapes are 1/4”- gravel and pea gravel. Learn more about types of aggregates here.

Annual - A plant that flowers and dies in one season (think pansies). You would normally purchase an annual just as it begins to flower and then remove it once it is done. We very rarely include annuals in our landscape designs, preferring perennials.

Arbor - A garden structure generally used to support climbing plants or vines. They can be part of a fence, gate, or free standing.

Arborist - Basically a tree doctor that is trained in the care and maintenance of trees. The City of Portland has a good guide to working with an arborist.

Accent Plants - Plants that provide interest and generally stand out in the landscape due to their color, texture, and/or blooms. They do not set the structure of the garden and primarily serve aesthetic goals.

Access -  A way to approach an area or garden feature. The concept of “access” can be practical: providing access for maintenance. Or it can be a matter of aesthetics: making access welcoming so you are drawn toward a garden destination.

Aesthetics - Very subjective, this is the perception of beauty or attractiveness of a garden space or design. No matter how practical a garden needs to be it also needs to meet a certain threshold of aesthetics. “Aesthetic” may also be used to describe a chosen style or look for the landscape.

Allee - A walkway bordered with trees, bamboo, or hedges. Generally a formal feature meant to emphasize the approach to a main entrance feature.

Amend - Adding beneficial organic material to your garden’s native soil to improve it for plants. Usually this is done by mixing in some compost as we install plants.

- B -

Backfill - Gravel or dirt used to fill behind a retaining wall or other landscape feature.

Backflow Prevention Device - Valve required by the City of PDX to prevent water in your irrigation system from being syphoned back into the water supply.

Balance - A design concept, where elements in the landscape are in “balance” with one another. The size, orientation, and perceived mass of elements all play a role. This is highly subjective.

Balled and burlapped - Field dug tree with the root ball wrapped in burlap. Often abbreviated to “B&B” in the trade.

Basalt - (as it relates to landscaping in Portland) The most common type of landscape and masonry stone. Boulders from the Columbia River Gorge and other local quarries are usually basalt. The most common basalt is gray, but black basalt and basalt with brown tones is also available.

Basin -  An enclosed area of water. When discussing water features the basin may be the water receptacle below ground or the pot or vessel that water spills out of.

Bubbler - A style of water feature with a large drilled stone usually serving as the centerpiece.

Boulder - Large stone. In general a stone over 125 lbs would qualify as a boulder. More about the proper way to set boulders is here.

- C -

Cascade - Where water in a stream or vessel hits a point of vertical drop. The height and width of a cascade are major factors in the amount of noise generated by a water feature.

Catch basin - A below grade vessel for collecting surface water and then directing it into a drain line or dry well. Also, an area where water pools before falling over the next cascade.

Clump - Group of trees, shrubs, bamboo, or ornamental grass planted together to form a grouping.

Compost - Decomposed garden or food material, used in planting beds to amend from above and hold moisture where it is needed.

Concept Plan - During the landscape design process, this is a basic drawing or plan containing the key details of the garden plan, without adding excessive details or full plantings so the basic footprint of key elements can be understood. Examples of plans from Ross NW Watergardens’ designer are here.

Conifer - Tree that bears cones and needle-like or scale-like leaves that are typically evergreen. Pine, cedar, hemlock, redwood, fir, cypress, juniper, spruce, and arborvitae are common conifers in the PNW.

Contour -  Purposeful change in ground elevations or grade. These may take the form of a mound, swale, or combination of the two.

Contrast - Differences in tone, texture, mass, or color between landscape design elements. Plant combinations or pairings often highlight these differences so that each plant can shine.

Course - A horizontal row or tier of stone, paver, or wood in a wall , patio, or landscape screen.

Courtyard garden - A garden mostly or completely surrounded by walls or buildings, perhaps at the entry to a building or meant to viewed from key windows.

Curbing - A border or edging using poured concrete or natural stone.

– D –

Deciduous - A tree or bush (shrub) that loses its leaves in winter. In the PNW there are semi-deciduous or semi-evergreen plants that may lose their leaves depending on how cold the winter is. Abelia and some hebe are good examples.

Deck - A flat gathering space, made of wood or composite material (made to look like wood), typically adjacent or attached to a structure. A deck usually sits above grade, a patio would generally be at grade.

Decking -  Materials the surface of a deck is made out of. Cedar, ipe, juniper, and composite are the most common decking materials in Portland. Some excellent decking contractors are recommended here.

Decorative rock - Rocks chosen for their color or texture and used as a ground cover, walking surface, or focal point. Black beach pebbles, pea gravel, and granite are the most common choices in Portland landscape designs. A wide selection of decorative rock can be found at Smith Rock, Inc and Oregon Decorative Rock.

Decomposed Granite - Granite that is weathered to the point that it is a very fine aggregate. This is a natural process, and the result can be used for paths and patios. Decomposed granite is often referred to as DG. It is especially useful in modern landscapes.

Design Elements - Key landscape features being proposed in a landscape design plan. Water features, paths, patios, decks, boulders, plantings, screens, fences, and contouring are just some of the common design elements.

Design Objectives - Goals that the client has for the new landscape. These goals guide the design process, not the designer’s style or preferences. Common design objectives in Portland are low maintenance, drought tolerant, and animal friendly.

Dethatch - Process for removing or thinning the dead lower level of a mature lawn. Thatch is grass that has died and collected below the green blades. Some thatch is normal and healthy. However, over time this layer can get very thick and make it difficult for water, sun, and nutrients to get to portions of the turf.

Drainage - The process of collecting and controlling the flow of water on a property. This can be done with grading, French drains, dry wells, permeable surfaces, sump pump, rain gardens, and more. Often multiple methods are required since Portland gets so much rain. Properties at the bottom of hills, with natural springs, or full of heavy clay have the most drainage problems.

Drip irrigation - A slow feeding irrigation system that utilizes flexible tubing and emitters to send a precise amount of water to each plant. This is the most efficient method of irrigating plants.

Drought Tolerance - The ability of a plant to survive without much summer water. There are many plants that are “drought tolerant” but most will be happier with at least some summer water, and all will need some water the first couple of summers.

Dry Garden - A garden feature where water is represented by an aggregate stone product, usually a gravel or granite. These are most commonly found in modern and Japanese garden design.

Dry-laid - A stone or flagstone patio, path, or walkway built without a concrete base. The base would be compacted gravel and the joints would be an aggregate or walkable ground cover. Dry laid stone work is more rustic and will become somewhat uneven over time.

Dry-stacked - A stone retaining or free standing wall built without the use of mortar. A highly skilled mason is required for a dry stack stone wall. Most walls in Portland are not dry stacked, even if they appear to be.

Dry Well - An underground structure that collect water and allows it to slow percolate into the soil around it. Dry wells can be installed in the landscape so that roof or rainwater is not sent into Portland’s water treatment system.

– E –

Ecological: Landscape design that is compatible with a sites’ environment in both appearance and sustainability without negative impacts to the environment.

Edging: Edging in the landscape is a line of demarcation that creates visual interest in the garden by separating one segment from another segment. This can be aesthetic or functional, keeping one element (such as pea gravel) from getting mixed into another (like bark dust).

Enclosure: In a landscape design, to fence or wall an area in. Areas can also have a feeling of “enclosure” provided by trees, other plantings, fences, or screens.

Entry Garden: The landscape near the entry to a building.

Espalier: A tree, shrub or vine, trained to grow on a wall or fence into a specific pattern. Especially useful for fruit trees, making it easy to harvest the fruit and containing mess.

Evergreen: A plant whose leaves or needles are green year-round.

Exotic: A plant that is not native to the location where it will be planted. Not all “exotics” are invasive or harmful, and many can be well behaved or drought tolerant.

– F –

Fernery: A mass planting of ferns.

Fescue: Thicker bladed turf grass that spread via rhizomes.

Final grade: The level of soil on your property before bark dust or compost is spread.

Fixture (Low Voltage Lighting): The lighting elements of a landscape lighting system. Primary fixtures types are spot lights, path lights, well lights, and underwater lights.

Flagstone: Generic term used to describe natural flat stones of different shapes and colors used to create walkways, patios, and walls. Flagstone is usually larger than stepping stones.

Float valve: A valve that will automatically refill your water feature when the water falls below a certain level. These are usually connected to your irrigation system.

Flow control valve : Usually a ball or gate valve that gives you control over the flow of water coming from your pump to your water feature.

Focal Point: The element in a landscape design or area in a landscape that is meant to be most prominent. The focal point can be a plant, boulder, statuary, gathering space, or other landscape feature.

Formal: A style of gardens or garden elements that stress straight lines, right angles and circles.

Foundation Plantings: Bushes or shrubs located in beds near the foundation of a home or other structure.

French Drain: A trench filled with 2” round rock containing a perforated pipe that collects and redirects surface water and groundwater away from an area, many times to a dry well.

Function: The purpose, reason, or action that an area is be landscaped for. Stairs function, for example, to allow foot traffic up and down a slope.

– G –

Garden: Space for growing plants for viewing, eating, or physical activity.

Gazebo: A roofed building used over an outdoor gathering space.

Germination: The sprouting of a seed, perhaps referring to a lawn that is being grown from seed.

Grading: Changing the level of soil for better drainage or to create interest or function.

Gravel: Rock product, either rounded or fractured, that is relatively small- usually 1” or less.

Groundcover: Low plants that are allowed or encouraged to spread over an area.

– H –

Hardscape: Can refer to any “hard” garden elements including statuary or boulders but most commonly is used to refer to paths, patios, and walls.

Head : Height difference between the level of water in a pond (or the level of the pump if it sits outside the pond) and the upper outlet of water which impacts performance of the water pump in gph (gallons per hour).

Hedge: Dense shrubs or trees that form a fence, screen, or boundary.

Herbaceous: Plants with non-woody stems.

Herbicide: A chemical used to control weeds.

Horizontal Slats: Fence boards that run horizontally, often used in modern or Japanese-inspired landscape designs.

– I –

Imaginary Lines: Lines that define spaces within a landscape concept. These often extend from corners or key features of an existing structure. Proper use of imaginary lines can help the landscape feel connected to the home and other elements.

Informal: The opposite of formal in the landscape. A more relaxed garden dominated by curved rather than straight bed lines and a less rigid structure. Traditional PNW landscapes are informal.

Invasive Plant: A plant that spreads more than desired, or into habitats where it does damage. Portland has a list of invasive plants that should not be installed in landscapes because they can spread to forests or waterways and be difficult to control.

Irrigation: Watering plants and lawn, usually with an irrigation or sprinkler system.

Irrigation /Sprinkler Plan: 2-D rendering of the proposed irrigation system. Can include head placements and coverage, pipe sizing, GPM specs, and materials needed to install this system. An irrigation plan is usually unnecessary for residential properties but is common for commercial projects.

– J –

– K –

– L –

Landscape Architect: Licensed professional who designs landscapes, schooled in engineering and architecture as well as in horticulture.

Landscape Design: The art or practice of planning (designing) changes to landscaped areas, either for aesthetic or practical purposes.

Landscape Designer: The professional who plans and develops landscape projects, usually at a residential or small commercial level with the major design impetus on plantings. Landscape designers typically have less schooling than Landscape Architects and are not licensed.

Landscape Plan: A completed landscape design, detailing all elements for the new landscape. This usually takes the form of a drawing on paper.

Landscape Fabric: Textile used to suppress weeds, keep aggregate from sinking into mud, and to protect French drains from silt.

Lime: Calcium material used to raise the pH in soil, which will make it less hospitable to moss.

Liner: A water tight HDPE material used underneath ponds, streams and waterfalls in water features.

– M –

Mass Plantings: Using many plantings of the same variety to fill in an area in the landscape. This can lower maintenance and water use in the garden.

Materials List: Compiled list of all materials needed to install the landscape design.

Microclimate: Variations in temperature and growing conditions based on in elevation, sunlight, drainage, or wind as seen in your own yard.

Minimalism: Using the smallest number of plants, plant varieties, hardscape materials and other elements needed to accomplish the goal for the landscape design. This aesthetic is usually associated with modern and low maintenance landscape design.

Mixed Border: A flowerbed with a mix of different plants such as flowering perennials and shrubs.

Modernism: Modern landscape design is characterized by clean lines, clear borders between elements, mass plantings, and minimalism.

Moongate: This is a circular aperture in a wall or fence, most often seen in Chinese or Japanese gardens.

Mortar: A mix of cement, sand, and water that is used in stone masonry for setting stones and joints.

Mulch: A layer of compost or bark dust applied at the base of a plant.

Mossery: A mass planting of moss.

– N –

Native Plant: A plant that was present in a geographic location before people started changing the landscape.

– O –

Orchard: A place for growing fruit trees, can be within a larger landscape.

Orientation: How the garden or a garden element is arranged in relationship to an existing or new feature or to a direction.

Organic Lawn Care: Maintaining a lawn without the use of chemical herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers.

Ornamental grasses: Grasses that are not mowed but grown in landscapes as perennials.

– P –

Patio: This is a partially open sided relaxation or recreation area that adjoins a dwelling, used for entertaining, outdoor dining and simply enjoying the outdoor environment.

Pavers: Precast concrete pieces that are used to create patios and walkways.

Pea Gravel: Small round gravel.

Perennial: Plants that provide seasonal interest and then die back in the winter. Annuals do not come back the following season, but perennials do.

Perennial Rye: Cold season grass that is the most common turf grass in Portland, OR and the rest of the PNW.

Pergola: An open roofed structure over a patio or other landscape feature.

Pesticide: A chemical used to control insects.

Planter: An ornamental container for growing plants.

Pondless: A water feature with no true pond, the water basin is below grade and often hidden by round rock.

Privacy Screen: Fences, trellises, or shrubs used to block the view of a certain area or view.

Pruning: Cutting parts of a plant off to control size, health and appearance.

PVC Pipe: Kind of pipe used in most irrigation systems.

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Disclosure: We may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our recommendations. This blog post was live without the links for several years.

Irrigation and Sprinkler System Servicing

Life changes. For years you are able to go to La Taq twice a week for tacos. Now you have kids and it takes a babysitter to go. So you don't. It's not that you don't like tacos anymore, just that your situation has changed.

Business can be like that too.

Ross NW Watergardens used to do a lot of irrigation system and water feature repairs. Either myself or Joe would take care of them. Quite a few clients got used to calling us every year for a checkup, cleaning, or repair.

Back then we had one landscape crew, no maintenance crews, and didn't do any design work. We now have multiple crews and do quite a few designs. The only way to continue doing repairs on water features and sprinklers is to grow. We don't want to add technicians, so...

We are no longer taking on repairs for systems or features we did not install ourselves. But don't worry, we have some great referrals for you:

Irrigation & Water Feature Repairs:

Bridge City Backflow & Irrigation. Irrigation repairs, backflow testing, and pond repairs too!

Sprinkler Repairs on Yelp

Sprinkler Repairs on Home Advisor

Water Feature Repairs:

Water Feature Servicing on Yelp

Water Feature Servicing on Home Advisor

Hughes Water Gardens. They have employees who service water features on the side.

DIY Irrigation Repairs?

Most irrigation repairs are simple and can be done by just about anyone. How to DIY your sprinkler fix?

  1. Completely expose the leak or faulty part. You want to be sure you know what is leaking or not working.

  2. Find a YouTube video that shows how to fix your problem. There are thousands of them, and many are very clear and simple.

  3. Get parts you will need, perhaps from a big box store or Amazon. You can find some of the parts we use at our Amazon store.

DIY Water Feature Repairs?

Absolutely. Most water feature repairs are DIY friendly. Be sure you know what has gone wrong and what parts (if any) need to be replaced. There are very few places locally that carry water feature supplies, so I suggest you try Amazon or an online retailer like AZ Ponds. Our Amazon store has products we use when building new features.

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Portland has taken ADU construction from a fringe concept to a widely adopted strategy for dealing with a housing and housing cost crisis. The City of Portland encourages ADU’s and a wide range of architects, designers, and contractors specialize in their construction.

Once your ADU is completed you will probably realize that your landscape is gone, available space is tighter, and there are now two structure that feel like the yard belongs to them.

How can you create garden that works as well as your ADU does? You can hire a landscape designer or DIY, either way these principles and considerations will help as you develop a plan.


How To Design A Landscape For Your ADU:

Make sure drainage is in order. This is usually a big part of the ADU planning process, so it is probably already be in place. Just be sure all the water your ADU roof is collecting is directed into the ground. This can involve a rain garden, dry well, or whatever stormwater mitigation plan the City requires.

Consider the need for privacy. Many Accessory Dwelling Units have windows that look directly into windows of the primary home. Blinds are an obvious solution, but with some smart planting or use of screens, you can welcome the sun without feeling like your lot mate is staring at you in your pajamas.

What space is shared? If the backyard revolves around lawn or a patio, is that space shared by both dwellings? If so, you want to make it feel welcoming from both homes. Paths and planting, carefully considered, can accomplish this. Communal space can be great, or it can become a space created for all but used by none. It is important to understand the kind of people who will occupying each space and then plan accordingly.

Is there private outdoor space? Even if the garden space is small you can assign portions of it to each dwelling and make each feel private and distinct. Planting, screens, seat walls, and even low voltage lighting can all play a role.

Does storage need to be integrated? Many ADU designs are short on storage space. Small sheds can be placed in a setback and side yards can become a clean place for bike parking.

Maintenance and water demands should be carefully considered. Who cares for the garden and how much time can be spent on it? Who will water the plants and who pays for that water? I these questions make you nervous a low care and drought tolerant landscape is what you need.


Should You Design Your Own ADU Garden?

Small garden spaces are tempting, designing and installing them seem so doable. And for many they probably are. However, small spaces have no room for error. All the elements need to be just right.

If you decide you need some help designing or building your ADU garden feel free to contact our lead designer, Ben Bowen. He will schedule a free consultation and help you decide exactly what kind of help you need.

Have questions about your ADU landscape design? Leave them below and we will try to answer!

ADU Landscaping Resources:

Great post / interview about a completed ADU landscape design build project.

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There is no such thing as a modern plant.

Landscape designs can be modern, utilizing raw materials in a way that is clean and sharp. But what if your landscape is already completed, and isn’t as modern as you would like? Or maybe you are having a hard time completing the look because most garden accessories are traditional in style.

Whatever the case, you have come to the right place. Here is a collection of truly modern accessories (some from Portland) that will put the finishing touches on your modern garden.

Modern Garden Accessories:
  • Stahl Firepit. A modular steel fire pit, available in multiple sizes. Simple and rugged, this fire pit will draw you out to use it and look on all those nights when you aren’t using it.

  • Steel Planters. You can have them fabricated locally or purchase some that need to be assembled. Ross NW Watergardens has had success with the corten planters from Nice Planter. They are easily assembled but very well made.

  • Minimalist Arbors. Steel or wood, rectangular or rounded, the key is to keep the design clean and simple. This one from Terra Trellis is a great example.

  • Modern Path Lights. Low voltage landscape lighting lets you enjoy your landscape for more hours. Well chosen fixtures, like these from Hinkley or these from Volt, mean your landscape will benefit even when the lighting itself is not needed (you know, during the day).

  • Fence Mounted Trellises. A boring fence can be pushed into the background with a thin profile trellis, like the ones from Terra Trellis. They are available in multiple sizes and finishes. Pair them with steel planters for an especially dramatic feature.

  • Polished Stone. Boulders and other kinds of natural stone can be used in modern landscape designs. Polished stone can be an especially easy fit. Look for something cut and then polished, like these great basins.

  • Bee Boxes & Bird Houses. Bird houses can be quaint, but don’t have to be. These mounted ones are especially cool. Providing a home for bees is a fairly recent addition to residential landscape designs, yet most bee boxes are rustic. This hanging one from Terra Trellis really stands out.

  • Retro Mailbox. (Most) mailboxes are boring and/or ugly. These are not.

  • Concrete Benches. These can be poured in place and add an industrial feel to your landscape. Modular solutions are more flexible and available in several patinas.

  • Garden Art. Your best bet is to source this locally. However, you can find some amazing pieces online (especially if your pockets are deep.)

Is your landscape tired, not a reflection of the way you live? Contact us today and schedule a consultation.

Simply need some ways to emphasize the modern lean of your existing garden? The accessories above can help. For more ideas visit our Amazon shop.

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Panoramic image of the “Flat Garden” at Portland’s Japanese Garden.

Pictures from the Portland Japanese Garden

My wife and I spent the weekend celebrating our 17th anniversary. On Sunday we spent a couple chilly hours at the Japanese Garden. The lace leaf maples have lost all their leaves, allowing you to really appreciate the structure of the plant. Other Japanese maples are still keeping their leaves and the colors are fantastic.

Here are some pictures from the day:


View across the pond towards one of the garden’s bridges.


The Zagunis Castle Wall and a white enkianthus.


This landscape designer contemplates the future (where to eat next?)


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Most of the time I do blog posts about stuff Ross NW Watergardens does well. This post is about something we do not do at all, ever- sell pond supplies.

Pond Supplies Portland Oregon

Ross NW Watergardens designs, builds, services, cleans, and repairs water features. However, we do not sell pond supplies. We are not a retail location. In fact, we operate out of a home!

Looking for a skimmer net, filtration media, pond plants, algaecide, etc? Here are my favorite places to get them:

Where To Buy Water Feature Supplies Around PortlandGet Pond Supplies Online

Our Amazon page will guide you to the best of the best pond supplies- every item is one we have actually used!

What Size Pump Does My Water Feature Need?

Picking a pond pump can be daunting.

There are submersible pumps, garbage pumps, centrifugal pumps, self-priming pumps, magnetic drive pumps, and the list goes on. I am going to keep this post simple though. I won't go into pro's and con's for all the different kinds of pumps. I am just going to tell you how Ross NW Watergardens picks a pond pump when we build a water feature.

Step 1: What Kind of Water Feature?

The pump you choose is directly related the type of water feature you have or are designing. Will your pond have fish in it?

If so then you probably want a centrifugal pump. Why are centrifugal pumps better for koi ponds? Centrifugal or in-line pumps sit outside the pond. They give you the ability to use one pump and integrate several filtration methods.

For example, an in-line pond pump can be plumbed so that it draws water from a skimmer, a bottom sand filter, and a bog filter. It is more difficult and less effective to set up multiple filtration methods with a submersible pump.

Centrifugal pumps have an expected life span of 10-15 years and tend to be very reliable. You can go out of town and feel comfortable that your mature koi will have the water circulation they need.

But if your pond will not have fish? Then a submersible pump may be the answer. The pump can sit in your skimmer or a vault in the pond. Plumbing is simple and the initial cost is much lower.

A submersible pump can be expected to last 4-7 years. Be sure to get a true pond pump. Many landscapers install sump or garbage pumps in ponds. The initial cost is low, but the long term costs are high. Why?

A garbage pump is designed to be used for short periods of time and then be shut off. Pond pumps are usually for many hours, days, or even months at a time!

Garbage pumps are also extremely inefficient, using a lot of electricity to move water. A typical 4000 GPH sump pump will require 10-11 amps. A comparable pond pump will use 2-5 amps. The difference means several hundred dollars a year to a Portland pond owner.

How can you be sure to get the right kind of submersible pump? The key is to specifically request a "continuous duty" pump.

Step 2: How Big is the Water Feature?

If your water feature is very large, then you might consider a centrifugal pump even if you won't have fish or a lot of filtration. Why?

While submersible pumps have become much more efficient recently, in-line pumps generally use less electricity. So if you need a high volume pump, or even multiple pumps, then a centrifugal pump may cost less in the long run. If you will be using over 10,000 GPH give this a lot of thought.

Regardless of the size of your water feature or kind of pump chosen, you need to decide how much water flow you need.

This is a little tough. I just know, from experience, what size pump a certain size stream and pond need. But that doesn't help much does it? This online tool, though, works really well. I use it sometimes just to check myself before I order a pump.

Step 3: Choose Your Brand and Model of Pond Pump.

How can you choose a pond pump when there are dozens of choices that are the size you need? Here are a couple things to consider:

  • How much will it cost to run this pump? Compare "amps" required by different pumps. The lower the number, the lower the cost.

  • How long is the warranty? Three year warranties are fairly common, but some pumps offer 5, or even 6 year warranties.

  • What is the reputation of the brand? Do a search for "[pump brand] reviews. Search the water features forum at lawnsite.com. No mention of the pump you are considering? It probably has not been around long enough to have a reputation.

  • How much does the pond pump cost? A 4000 GPH pump will cost between $180 and $700. Why such a wide range? Efficient pumps from reliable manufacturers with long warranties will cost more.

Quick Water Feature Pump Tips:
  • Centrifugal or in-line pumps sit out of the water and are more efficient and long lasting than submersible pumps.

  • Submersible pumps should be continuous duty.

  • This is a very popular pump. It is not continuous duty- don't install it in your pond!

  • Want to figure the cost of running your pump? Use the calculator on this page.

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You know you need a new landscape. Or maybe your existing garden just needs an upgrade. Either way you need help. The question is: what form should that help take?

Do I Need A Landscape Design?

This question can not be answered unless we define landscape design. Landscape design is both a process and a product. You go through the landscape design process and in the end you get a landscape design in the form of drawings on paper.

Landscape design is more than just ideas for improving your landscape. It is more than just concepts expressed with words. But it is also not the landscape itself. Landscape design is ideas and concepts, expressed in drawings on paper that can guide the installation process.

So, does your project require a landscape design?

It does if it meets some of these requirements:

  • The project is large and complex.

  • You have slopes that need to be retained.

  • A substantial amount of hardscape (patios and walkways) will be created.

  • You have difficulty visualizing concepts if you can't see them.

  • The project will be done in phases.

When do you not need a formal landscape design?
  • Your project is small and/or fairly simple.

  • Planting is the primary new element.

  • The basic structure of your outdoor spaces is set already.

  • You are good at visualizing concepts.

  • You are willing to trust a landscape contractor's vision.

If Not a Design, Then What?

Once you decide your project does not require a formal design what happens? Instead of drawings and then a proposal for installation, we skip straight to the proposal. The proposal will be very detailed, including the following:

  • Detailed descriptions of every major feature of the landscape.

  • A price for each item.

  • Screenshot sketches showing basic locations and shapes of key elements.

  • Links to pictures and information about materials, including plants.

A proposal from Ross NW Watergardens should make you confident to hire us to execute the project. And if you have questions or concerns, just let us know and we can revise the proposal to address them.

Still not sure if you need a design?

Contact our designer, Ben Bowen, today and schedule a free consultation.

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A Landscape Design & Build Project in Camas, WA Wonder what it takes to have a new landscape designed and installed?

Ross NW Watergardens just completed a large design-build project in Camas, WA. Follow along to see how we took this property from boring builder landscape to one of the coolest gardens we have ever created.

Our client contacted us early in March 2018 about designing and installing a new landscape at his modern home. After the initial consultation we were hired to do a design for the whole property, and by the end of May the design was complete.

Here are some “before” pictures and the final version of the landscape design:

The new landscape plan included a modern dry pond and water feature, a copper basin water feature, boulder settings and plantings that are Japanese-influenced, cedar clad retaining walls, stone slab steps, and a modern take on Japanese moon gates.

Our installation crews started the project in late July, worked through the summer, and completed the project in mid-October. Want to see how it turned out?

Pictures of our completed modern landscape in Camas, WA:

Ross NW Watergardens is ready to help you with your Camas, Vancouver, or Ridgefield landscape. Contact us today for a free consultation!

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