An Oregon backyard proves just how beautiful sustainable practices can be, even in a small space.

By James A. Baggett

Sustainability is all about using resources in a smart and ecological way—and Virginia and Mike Malone got it right in their Portland, OR, garden. The couple was on a mission to leave the smallest possible environmental footprint while transforming a 64x106-foot muddy lot into a private and eco-friendly space. Garden designer Marina Wynton incorporated some of the more expected elements—compost bins for recycling yard and kitchen waste, native plants, and grasses that thrive without hogging water.

But Wynton also employed a few less obvious tricks, such as the shed’s green roof and trees that yield hard-to-find, pricey fruit (fig, quince, persimmon). The raised vegetable beds in a corner of the yard produce enough fresh food that the Malones donate the excess to a local food bank. “For us,” Virginia says, “living greener was the whole point.”

Stormwater Management

Because Portland law requires property owners to prevent stormwater runoff, garden designer Marina Wynton installed permeable pea gravel paths that allow rainwater to percolate through the ground into large underground tanks to be stored for later use. This well-considered backyard combines a terraced porch, four raised beds for flowers and edibles, and a roof shed planted with assorted sedums.

Control Sun Exposure

The back terrace faces west, so it gets uncomfortably warm in the summer. “We didn’t realize how hot the setting sun can be,” Virginia says. “We installed a retractable awning to help keep the patio cooler.”

Related: Solutions for Summer Heat

Maximize Raised Beds

Concrete masonry blocks stack 18 inches high to create 8x16-foot beds. Wide caps provide comfortable seating while maintaining access to the beds from all sides. Portable a-frame trellises expand growing capacity.

Elevate a Classic

Local metal artist Mike Suri designed this decidedly contemporary steel take on a traditional bottle tree, a nod to Virginia’s Southern roots. The “trees” reference African folk tales about evil spirits lured and trapped in the pretty blue bottles. The steel's color gives the illusion of wood.

Rooftop Garden

The Malones’ son built the shed with a 12x12-foot roof covered in tiles preplanted with a colorful mix of drought-tolerant sedums and a drip-irrigation system to preserve water. The roof reduces runoff and lowers the ambient temperature, plus it improves the view from the home’s second story. One reason for the shed's living roof: it's the main view from second-floor windows.

Privacy Fencing

The 6-foot-tall cedar fencing mimics the house’s siding. The uneven slats add style and privacy. The wood was left unsealed to age to pale gray.

Be Artful

In addition to different forms of bottle trees, artist Michael Suri worked with the Malones to create a contemporary, botanically inspired iron garden gate. “I knew I wanted something special,” Virginia says. “So I showed him some poppy seedpods for inspiration. The result was not what I had in mind initially, but now it just feels right for the space.”

Related: Garden Gate Inspiration

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