Concepts For A Sustainable Estate Garden Design

by Ben Bowen

Large properties are fairly rare in the Portland area, but they do exist. Most of my clients with large landscapes (over 10,000 square feet) have similar priorities to those with typical city lots:

  • Something beautiful that reflects the tastes and personality of their family.
  • Spaces that prioritize function, expanding usable area.
  • Landscapes that are sustainable, not requiring an army of professionals to maintain.
  • Plants that are drought tolerant, native if possible, and combine to provide year-round interest.

How do you deliver all of this in a big package? Here are some of the concepts that go into a successful estate garden design:

A larger lot offers some advantages. For example, there is is room for multiple concepts and distinct spaces.

A front yard can be more formal, with a carefully limited plant palette, so that it presents a consistent impression to the neighborhood. We take all your preferences and boil them down to the most essential. This is what we compose the front yard out of.

Other areas of the garden expand on the pattern set in the front. A shady slope becomes a woodland garden full of color and texture. This area is more changing than the front, but utilizes many of the same plants and materials. The front yard connects you to the neighborhood, while the woodland slope connects you to nature.

Privacy can be attained quickly on a larger property. Larger plants (large now, bigger later) can be installed so you don't have to wait years to block undesirable views. 

Another significant advantage is the existence of mature plants. Small lots are often stripped clear when a home is built. Even a remodel may damage large portions of the garden. Larger gardens may already have plants that are mature, perhaps even predating the home. Mature trees especially should be highlighted and enhanced. You can have a garden that feels fully established even when most of it is new!

Hardscape usually plays a big role in these gardens. You need ways to get around the garden, both for enjoying and maintenance. Large boulders can lend a feeling of age and permanence to the landscape. Other elements, like dry creeks, can be both attractive and functional. They create focal points that are low maintenance and (in many cases) can also be part of a water management plan.

Patios should be large enough for the way the family lives. Secondary patios invite smaller groups out into the garden and provide places for parents to watch their kids play. If desired one of these can house a stone fire pit or fireplace. Secondary patios can feel very private, like a distinct outdoor room.

Fencing should provide the level of security and privacy that is desired, but doesn't need to be a key visual element. Fences and stone walls can be blended, especially along the front of the property, to great effect. Stone walls age very well, and convey the idea that the home is loved- someone has invested for the long term.

Low voltage lighting will allow you enjoy the property for many more hours each year. Close to the home lighting is functional. It is used more sparingly out in the garden, to highlight focal points and provide a sense of depth. Dark corners can be gently illuminated, increasing the feeling of privacy.

Pictures Illustrating Key Concepts:

(View Ideabook on Houzz)