Converting dog run into enclosed private garden

acw2355July 17, 2012

I've gotten lots of good advice from here so I'm back with another project. We have a fenced back area that has been used for primarily a dog run and drying laundry while we've been working on landscaping the front yard.

This area has a chain link fence which we will keep. I'd like to consider making a hedge using Euonymous "Green Spire" on the south side by the yellow house. We don't plan to use much in the way of flowers. We'd like to use foliage for colors and create an Asian style/inspired private garden area. The arborvitae you see is on the neighbor's side of the fence.

My husband dug up the center and put gravel in it. The intention was to make a patio of sorts using pavers in gravel. He has not yet pursued this! I would like to use 24" architectural pavers set in gravel. I don't want stone that one could trip over - some of the flagstone looks pretty jagged around edges. Husband wants to keep a border of grass around paved area so dogs may do "their business."

The house was built in 1950 and is considered a "cottage-ranch" style. It would lend itself to an Asian influence depending on what plants and accessories we choose.

Exposure from the back door looks east. East side does have some trees which cast afternoon shade. The yellow house is on the south side. Our house is on the west and north side of this fenced area.

Some ideas are to use dwarf conifers (so many choices - which ones?) mixed in with other interesting evergreen and deciduous materials. I do have a small Cham.Saaken Sugi which I thought would be nice in SE corner. Would get morning sun, afternoon shade.

I'd be most grateful for any suggestions. I learn so much from these forums.

Cheers from Vancouver WA

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I had posted the photo before but it disappeared. Here it is again.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2012 at 9:19PM
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I am interested in doing something similar with a mix of colorful shrubs and a few perennials. I was inspired by this grouping that I have been watching mature for the last 7 years. It is at a high dollar subdivision in Blowing Rock NC area. I cannot get more than one picture to up load so I will continue on the next entry.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2012 at 10:08PM
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    Bookmark   July 17, 2012 at 10:12PM
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The above is the gate house. I wanna live in the gate house and be surrounded by beauty and mountains and someone else does all the yard work. I would be happy to assist.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2012 at 10:18PM
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I don't quite see how this relates to my post?

    Bookmark   July 18, 2012 at 10:54AM
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Not Asian style but use of foliage for color that could be adapted. There is an Asian Gardening Forum for more specific info.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2012 at 1:08PM
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There is a rather Asian feel to the examples frankielynn posted but the key is the focus on foliage, form and texture rather than flower color. You could certainly add the flowering plants of your choice but private or 'secret' gardens that focus on foliage rather than flowers tend to have a very calming and soothing quality to them in addition to appearing lush. It's that Zen thing :-))

The Vancouver-Portland area has a plethora of great nurseries. I'd suggest you visit a number of them with your space in mind and look what they have on offer. Dwarf conifers are a good start but look with a mind on light conditions -- most conifers prefer full sun but there are a number of cultivars with light (gold or yellow/cream spotted) foliage that would appreciate some shade. Yews are very shade tolerant and can work well.

ps. your Sekkan Sugi is a Cryptomeria, not a Chamaecyparis - both genera are very Asian in character and offer lots of dwarf or small growing forms and with a range of foliage color.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2012 at 1:50PM
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The textures in those photos are very nice although I'm looking at something much more intimate and enclosed. Will probably use a large urn water feature rather than a pond.

Yes, I realized later I had mis-identified the Cryptomeria as a Cham. later on. I really like both genera! The area gets morning sun from the east and midday sun from the south. Open shade from about 2 pm...depending on the season.

Thanks for the replies.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2012 at 6:38PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

If there is afternoon shade from trees, those trees are likely toward the west, otherwise it's morning shade. But I am actually wondering just how sunny this space is now and how sunny you want it to be. I am picturing it with a ring of waist-high to head-high plant material and going "meh."

I think I would try to overcome the circular impression (ring around the patio), which will be exacerbated when you put in your remaining hedging, by trying to make some strong lines in other directions. For example, I think I would have a tree IN the yard to create an upper story of foliage. That might be toward the southwest, always the logical place for a deciduous tree, and make it something that spreads - if the airspace is there. Below the eventual tree canopy, other layers of foliage can be planned in by putting in tall arching shrubs, vines with something to climb on, or even tall perennials (eg Cephalaria gigantea, delphiniums, what have you).

I would also try to make lines and outlines on the ground that do something other than go in a ring around your central patio. I actually think it is marvelous that the patio is somewhere other than at the house wall, as it allows you to be IN the garden as opposed to looking at it when you use your patio, gives you a path destination, and so on. It is possible that a wall/bench along one side of the patio could enhance your use of the space. Otherwise, maybe think in arcs, or ellipses, or anything but a ring or a square. Not sure if this is Asian or not, just creating dimension and patterns.

Karin L

    Bookmark   July 18, 2012 at 9:47PM
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Thank you karinl. Yes, there are Doug Firs to the west, across the street from us, which cast afternoon shade. I don't mind the morning sun but the midday sun can be quite warm when it is out (this is the pacific nw).
I wouldn't mind a smallish tree - there is a sprinkler system in place around the perimeter and I must keep that in mind with trees.

I too had the thought of doing something with an arc or something to break up all the rectangles I see. My husband insists on keeping some kind of grass border for the dogs and I am inclined to keep that grass to the south, near the yellow house which is also where I wanted to use the Euyonmous Green Spire for a hedge. There is a rather strained relationship with the people in that yellow house and I want to block their view and give us privacy.

Am including a couple of photos I found on Houzz which depict the kind of intimate small garden room feel I'm attracted to.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2012 at 10:36PM
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Here's another one from Houzz. LOL, I seem to be taken with these large pavers but I could stagger them to break them up.

Asian Patio design by New York Landscape Contractors Statile & Todd

    Bookmark   July 18, 2012 at 11:00PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Hmm, funny, I checked in again tonight thinking I only mentioned the approach that might appeal to me, but there are of course other approaches - you can obfuscate the rectangle or you can celebrate it. Celebrating it, echoing it, building on it, might actually make it easier to meet the objective of a lawn apron, and has a certain more formal appeal. For me there are still too many unknowns about the parameters of the yard to give more than general ideas, I'm afraid. I don't get how often the view you've shown would be seen, nor what your view or approach from the house would be, for example.

I had visualized your rectangular pavers being fitted tight to each other. I have some pavers spaced as shown in your photos and hate it - the gaps are ankle turners and chair leg grabbers, and growing in ground cover to that ideal extent is a "yeah right" proposition in a high use area, which with dogs, yours might be.

Karin L

    Bookmark   July 19, 2012 at 1:40AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I agree with Karin re the gaps between the big pavers being a PITA in more ways than one... I'd set them close together. I quite like rectangles, so the rectangular shape would be fine with me :-) For a patio though, I like to soften the edges with hostas hanging over the edge if there is shade enough for them. That's what we did around our concrete patio both here and at our previous house.

What kind/size/sex are your dogs? A grass border would be hard to maintain in the presence of one or more largish female dogs, unless they are very well trained to use a specific spots to do 'their business'! :-) If they are used to having this whole area as their bathroom space, there could be some major training needs coming up... :-) I'd be inclined to keep the perimeter plants to a limited number of tough perennials and shrubs that can survive the attentions of your dogs.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2012 at 10:14AM
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Thank you for the thoughtful replies. Point taken on the pavers. We are in our 50's and want to keep things lower maintenance and also safe for walking on. I don't want to be tripping or turning ankles. Dog-dug holes have already presented that problem.

I should explain that this little side garden is but a small part of the half-acre we live on and having been working on. This fenced area is connected directly to the back of the house. Beyond the back area is a slope which we're planting with natives and the two dogs will run down the slope and play where it levels out when we are there to supervise them.

The dogs are both 9 years old: one female Black German Shepard, one neutered male Doberman. Both are calm dogs but will play hide and seek sometimes behind shrubs. Mostly they prefer to be indoors. The Doberman will "sun" himself on the gravel.

I find my brain is attracted to the squares and rectangles because it offers order; like looking at a well planned pantry. Something in me wants order in this small space perhaps because we've been dealing with renovating this half-acre which really had no order to it. I'm already doing curves in the front lawn area which is more park-like so I don't feel the need to do curves in this smaller area.

The gravelled area is 240 sq. feet. I know that from measuring to see how many pavers I would need.

I've been to several open gardens in the Portland area where people have worked miracles in very small urban gardens. My planting plan is to use mostly foliage for color, perhaps a small hydrangea here and there. I like the look of Euonymous Green Spire for a hedge because it's narrow and more columnar. I want height for privacy but do not want something dense or growing outward too much. I can do hostas and ferns on the east side. The sunnier side is by the house itself. Not too worried about choosing's the actual design/hardscape I'm trying to work out. Thanks again for the responses.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2012 at 3:45PM
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"'s the actual design/hardscape I'm trying to work out."

This is puzzling because you seem to have the shape and location of the patio already established. Are you just looking for suggestions of materials to make it of? ... Construction advice? ... Connections to pedestrian circulation? ... Grade and pitch? ...A different layout geometry ...What?

Your photo lacks in giving an overall feel for the space and especially how it relates to the house. I feel like I'm looking at this spot with blinders on. Depending on what you're after, a plan sketch might also be helpful.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2012 at 9:16AM
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Here's an excellent website on japanese style gardens.

Here is a link that might be useful: bowdoin

    Bookmark   July 21, 2012 at 8:08AM
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Instead of "border of grass around paved area" how about this solution:
Paved area shaped like a square, with smaller squares of lawn in opposing corners.
(make the existing rectangle bigger - more digging for DH).
If you keep the chain link fence, it really would help if you painted it black and maybe replaced just the entrance gate and gate posts with something prettier (image-google "asian gate").
What about the pathway to patio? My gut feeling says avoid diagonal lines and stay with the rectangle pattern.... but can it still be comfortable?

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 4:05AM
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If you use native plants for your hedge you'll have an easier time establishing & maintaining it. I favor a mixed hedge, so you can have an assortment of plants you enjoy throughout the seasons and in the future if one dies you can replace it with whatever you desire at the time. Plus the natives attract birds and they add another dimension to your peaceful space. A visitor commented one Friday evening about 6pm, "It is like you recorded all the bird sounds." I could only laugh because we just built a habitat that they like & they came to us.

I'm not an expert, but we enjoy our backyard patio immensely late spring through fall as we're located outside the Seattle area with a long rainy season like you. In the rainy season I look out at the patio from my kitchen sink window & enjoy the view. We have portable fountains that attract birds including hummingbirds and provide enough white noise to drown out sounds.

Our backyard is much shadier and we've replaced thin grass & moss with many curving wood chip paths. We have a small dog who enjoys running on the paths more than the yard. We also have other pets such as chickens, ducks, doves, & rabbits, so the backyard space includes them, too.

You might want to include a climbing plant on a trellis or berm up the soil for the hedge to provide the privacy you need.

I share our pics to inspire you that a novice can create a useful & beautiful space.

view of patio displaying fuchsia starts ready for transplanting, Masterwort Shaggy in front left

patio view toward back of yard bench with fuchsia and blooming Lamium Aurea, Hosta & Filipendula ulmaria in bloom

view from path toward chicken coop with Astilbe Visions in Pink

Here is a link that might be useful: native plants at Portland Nursery

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 2:18PM
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It's been quite awhile since we first concieved the project and it took ages to get the 24" pavers we wanted. Mutual Materials who carries the product had a run for several months on them - couldn't keep them in supply because the contractors were grabbing them up.

At last we were able to get one pallet (28) and have laid them out in our dog run area. My husband laid them out with 10" gaps which he intends to infill with crushed gravel. I had hoped to fill the joints in with creeping thyme or something like that but wonder if our three big dogs (German Shepards) would just ruin them.

Had thought about surrounding area with turf but husband wants to go with all crushed gravel and now I think using a mixed 'media' of different gravels and rocks would be interesting. As mentioned above the fence line area will be softened with a variety of small conifers and foliage plants

One thought that came to me was to use smaller 12" squares around the borders to mimic the larger pavers.

Here are photos of what we've laid out so far, nothing permanent yet. Appreciate any further thoughts. Thinking a fire-pit or small water feature might be fun to add too.

This post was edited by alygal on Mon, Feb 24, 14 at 22:34

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 9:52PM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

I'm surprised you haven't planted more in all this time.
Those gaps are going to come back and haunt you. Several posters have said what a pain they are....and I wholeheartedly agree. You have received good advice from some real pros. Listen to them.
You also didn't put down the base pavers require for proper installation which will result in uneven settling, and gravel between them brings it's own set of problems.
I see where you and your husband are trying to get some order in what you are trying to achieve, but you are going about it in the wrong way and the wrong order. Plus, you and he have to be on the same page. As it is, you're setting yourself up for failure.
Where's the overall pictures? We need more to work on. You're focused too close. Step back. We need to see what you don't want to see so we can suggest planting schemes to hide it and fit in with what you want.
Before I retired, I and my crew of three could design and install your job in a week or less. That includes drainage, which you haven't even brought up yet. We live in the land of winter rain.
I hesitate to give you guidance because you haven't acted on any so far and it's been two years since the original post.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 4:28AM
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Mike, your reprimand sounds a touch harsh, but hopefully alygal will interpret that you have only her and hubby's best interests at heart. I can't agree with you more and others that the paver squares with wide gaps will be a royal pain. With gravel in between, it is forever messy so becomes not that nice to walk on or to look at. And, as has been stated, whether grass or gravel, it's a pain for using furniture. A gap-free floor would be so much better. And I especially agree that a proper, tamped base will be critical for longevity of the patio. Hopefully, alygal will weigh these considerations.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 12:47PM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

Yeah, I'm a little impatient. Sorry Alygal. I guess I'm getting old and grumpy.
Here's a broken concrete approach to my front stairs. I made the gaps as small as possible and I still have a maintenance problem.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 2:04PM
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Ehmm, had to wait awhile to respond to Mike.

It hasn't been quite two years and sometimes messy life just gets in the way of all the best laid plans; like, family illnesses and maintenance issues that take precedance over a little patio job. Take a walk in my shoes.

As I mentioned, this is not the definitive plan,we were just laying the pavers out. Yes, I agree, closer together is best but I've got a spouse who thinks he knows it all - can anyone relate?

    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 2:29PM
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A spouse who knows it all?? Say there aren't such things.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 9:41PM
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