How To Choose the Right Privacy Plants

How To Choose the Right Privacy Plants

Questions landscape designers ask to find the perfect privacy plants

Your perfect backyard sanctuary isn’t fully realized without careful consideration given to privacy, and utilizing plants to achieve this privacy is frequently the best solution. However, the challenge lies in selecting the perfect plant or combination of plants for your needs.

Let’s look at some of the key factors that will drive the design process and lead to the right plants for privacy

Growing plants

What are my site conditions?

The first step in any planting design project is analyzing the site conditions to understand what plant groups will thrive.

This becomes especially important in choosing privacy plants since they’ll need to thrive in order to create the privacy you and your family desire.

You’ll need to ask yourself:

  • What plant hardiness zone do I live in?
  • What are the sun/shade patterns for this area of the yard?
  • How is the soil? (pH, texture, nutrient levels, moisture levels)
  • Are there any issues with a prevailing wind?
  • Does the existing topography create erosion or moisture retention concerns?

Your options for the best screening shrubs will be dictated by the answers to these questions, do not skip this step! Note that some things can be changed, you could amend the soils or change the topography, for instance, but you’ll want to plan for this before making your privacy plant selections.

Image of private garden thanks to privacy plants

How much space do I have?

Arguably the most important question to answer after site conditions is going to be this, what kind space can I allocate to privacy plantings?

The more space, the more options, but don’t count your narrow yard out either. There are plenty of plants that have columnar or upright habits.

Take into account the length, width, and height that the plants will be occupying. If you have the space, don’t be afraid of trees, it is well documented that mature trees in the landscape increase a home’s value anywhere from 3%-15%. Also large-medium shrubs alongside well placed trees can offer a layering of textures and greenery that not only increases home value, but privacy and aesthetics as well.

So, what kind of plants fit into what kind of backyard space? Generally consider:

  • Narrow Space – 1’-3’ wide – upright/columnar shrubs, some hedges, vines if a structure can be utilized, some bamboos.
  • Average Space – 4’-12’ wide – above plus: larger shrubs, some columnar trees, most hedges, more options for layering, more bamboo choices.
  • Large Space – 15’+ wide – above plus: some full form trees, large shrubs, more layering.

The key difference maker between an impressive and private backyard, and a ho-hum yard is the effective layering of plant material.

Deciduous trees

Should I Use Any Deciduous Plants?

The short answer here is, it depends.

Since broadleaf evergreens are rare in many parts of the country, you may want to use deciduous plants to help create varied texture.

If you have enough space, yes you could sneak some into the scene to add color, change, and interest throughout the year without sacrificing too much privacy. However, if space is limited and privacy is a top priority, stick with evergreens whether broadleaf or coniferous.

If you simply must have some escape from the evergreen, some specific considerations will be helpful:

  • Choose tree and shrub varieties whose leaves fall late in the season and regrow early.
  • Use in areas where winter privacy is not required.
  • Use species that have a dense branching structure, prune to promote this.
  • If possible, plant in front of other evergreen screening plants.
  • Plant in clumps or groves so trunks, stems, and branches provide screening.
Pool surrounded by excellent privacy plants

Do The Plants ‘Fit-In’?

Finally, you should consider your neighborhood and the style of your home.

While plants don’t go in and out of style to the extent that clothes do, they will still adhere to some basic stylistic tendencies that the best backyards will have picked up on.

Think about it, you wouldn’t want to plant bamboo in front of the Neoclassical architecture of the White House (even if it were a variety hardy enough to live there) nor would you plan the ornament of a cottage garden to accent the minimalism of a modern home.

In the same way a neighborhood can have a particular vernacular that you’ll want to consider when choosing your privacy plants. This is a more subtle and nuanced detail, and could be debated from person to person and place to place, however you know it when you see it, whether done right or done wrong.


Take the time to carefully consider your conditions, space, needs, and overall aesthetic before making your final choices about privacy plants.

Once you have completed this pre-planning, you can next find the genus and species of plant that will fit the bill, and give you and your family a private sanctuary in the comfort of your backyard.

For more help, contact us

Solutions for Landscape Drainage Problems

Solutions for Landscape Drainage Problems

Solutions for Landscape Drainage Problems

Beauty and The Beast

Three almost magical solutions for taming winter water nightmares

Are winter water nightmares starting to creep into your landscape? The Beast comes out when drainage has not yet been developed or it has been neglected. It threatens your property value by posing safety (failing walls or flooded garage) or livability issues (soggy lawns or icy pathways.)

However, when drainage works, due to planning and good execution, it is a thing of beauty and helps to protect and enhance the value of your property. The landscape drainage professionals at Drake’s 7 Dees have some tried and true solutions for improving the situation, enhancing livability, and helping you protect your property value. 

Before sharing these three beautiful water management solutions for landscapes, it is helpful to review three factors that lead up to the need for these solutions. Sometimes addressing one of these precursors to beastly drainage issues can calm the situation and illuminate the need for pinpoint drainage solutions.

The Source of Landscape Drainage Problems

There are three site specific situations that lead to drainage issues. The first two conspire together to make water management a central focus of good landscape design. Rain and clay soils are the perfect combination for creating wet flows that quickly find low points. Then because of the physical properties of clay soils water remains on the surface for extended periods of time.

While we cannot control the rain, we can modify some soil situations for improved drainage as in our Four Seasons Lawn installations. Unfortunately, that solution is not practical for an entire property.  So, we are left with the third factor that influences water management.

Elevations differences or the grade changes on your property and your neighbors have a huge impact on where water travels.  Sometimes your property is lower in elevation and you get water run‐off from your neighbors. Sometimes the grade differences are all on your property footprint. Either way requires a master plan approach to redirecting the potential flow paths away from your home and other important features and structures.

Three Landscape Drainage Solutions

Now that you have a plan here are three beautiful tried and true water management solutions that the professionals at Drake’s 7 Dees often recommend:

A french drain to address drainage problems

French Drains are typically simple pipe and gravel systems designed to move surface water from one area to another. (Named after Henry Flagg French as described in his classic work, Farm Drainage published in 1859. Ah but I digress.) There are several ways to install them and the pipe materials used vary depending on the site situation. They are the go‐to solution for moving water from one softscape area to another. They are a requirement behind walls were water needs to be redirected to relieve water pressure.

Channel Drains take surface water from hardscape areas, like a pool deck or driveway and capture it in a pipe system with an open top grate. The end of the pipe then connects to the next way of moving the water further away from the collection point. That connection could be to a holding tank, french drain or to a hard solid pipe that moves the water to a drainage system.

A channel drain to address drainage problems
A flowell drainage system to address landscape drainage problems

Unlike French or Channel drains, Flowells are systems designed to collect and hold water for infiltration.  A Flowell is an engineered barrel with connection ports for in and out pipe feeders and the walls have holes for infiltration. The other distinct advantage of a Flowell is that the top of the system can be accessed to check the water levels; clean the system out; and install or inspect a sump pump as needed.

You can rest well now as French drains, Channel drains and Flowells, the three almost magical solutions for taming winter water nightmares have come to rescue you. Of course if you still want a little consolation the landscape drainage professionals at Drakes 7 Dees would be happy to speak with you! Click here to contact us today.

Lawn Soil, New Grass, and How to Start Over

Lawn Soil, New Grass, and How to Start Over

How to kill your lawn and start over with new grass

First, try to avoid spraying chemicals on lawns and lawn soil to kill everything, as these are harmful to our river and stream habitats.

There are isolated exceptions when we break our rule but generally, we’d suggest stripping off the old grass with a sod cutter and exposing the underlying soil to start from scratch. While doing this, be careful of underlying tree roots.

If herbicides are your only option we recommend Killzall by Hi-Yield, by following their simple instructions, you should receive a clean slate to work with.

Key factors in the success of your new lawn will be:

  • Choosing the correct grass type based on how much sunlight your lawn will receive year-round
  • Willingness to correct any soil deficiencies before planting


What’s the best time of year to start over?

Between August and October 1st is the ideal time. Next best would be late in the spring before deciduous trees complete their leaf out.


Should you test your lawn soil before you replant?

Yes. This is the only way to accurately know what state of health your soil is in and what exactly is needed to bring it into balance so that your new lawn thrives. A pH test (such as Rapidtest) is an easy and inexpensive way to see what your soil is missing.  In the Portland area, most soil needs lime to balance out high acid levels. Visit us at our Portland garden center and we’ll test your soil for you. 


the best lawn soil for grass

Fescue blend grass. Image courtesy of Great Basin Seeds


What’s the best grass type to plant in the Portland area?

A grass that thrives in full to partial sun, and is adapted for high use (though requiring more care) is a ryegrass blend. For moderate to low sun, lower use, while needing less water and care, use a fescue blend.

Our landscape design team can make your grass green, and your yard a dream!

Call to schedule an appointment: 503-256-2223

Rose Mold? No. Mycorrhizae. (It’s a good thing).

Rose Mold? No. Mycorrhizae. (It’s a good thing).

A customer at our Portland garden center in the Raleigh Hills neighborhood walked in the other day quite distraught. Earlier in the spring, she had purchased a rose fertilizer developed by the Portland Rose Society from us.

In the past, she had always bought the conventional form of it directly from the Society, but this time, she had bought the organic version, and she was not pleased.


Fuzzy Rose Mold?

Something that seemed like “rose mold” had developed on the soil surface wherever she had used this fertilizer. She even brought us a sample to see. She said her roses looked fine but requested a refund for what was left in the bag.


if you’ve ever bought plants from a nursery, you might have noticed this white stuff on the bottom. Don’t remove it!


We were all mystified. We had never seen this kind of thing before and refunded her money. But I was still curious, so I called the Rose Society to find out if they had seen or heard about this phenomenon from other rose growers. Indeed they had! In fact, the rosarian on the other end started laughing!


Marvelous Mycorrhizae

It turns out that the fuzzy stuff was simply mycorrhizae doing its thing, except in overdrive. Mycorhizzae is a naturally existing fungus that has existed in soils for over 450 million years. It forms a symbiotic relationship with plant root systems, and essentially extends the plant’s nutritional network, boosting its ability to absorb water, key nutrients, and trace minerals.

Usually, this network is hidden underneath the soil surface. In our customer’s case, it had continued expanding above ground – manifesting itself with this white fuzz. Long story short – prolific mychorrhizae is exceptionally good news for your garden.



image courtesy of


The world’s mycorrhizae networks are easily disrupted by construction, or even just digging. It is often completely disabled by industrial farming practices or the addition of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.


The Benefits of Mycorrhizae Mold On Soil

Mycorrhizae boosts the plant’s immune system, and strengthens its chances of prosperous survival.

Per our amused rosarian – the addition of mycorrhizae to the custom rose fertilizer was the main reason the organic variety cost more than the conventional.

If you ever observe a fuzzy substance like the one in the photo growing near the roots of your roses – you will be prepared to treat it like the gift it is! 🙂



17 Beautiful Beach Plants for Coastal Living

17 Beautiful Beach Plants for Coastal Living

We often get asked: “What plants do well in a coastal situation?” 

Having just returned from a week on the southern Oregon coast, I had the time and opportunity to see for myself, and am happy to share some good options. 

Here in western Oregon we have what is usually referred to as a Mediterranean climate, meaning mild winters and warm, dry summers. 

As any gardener here knows, the possibilities to grow interesting, unique, and fabulous plants here are nearly endless. On the coast, there are three additional important factors to keep in mind that might make beach plants and coastal gardening challenging. 

To my mind, these factors render coastal conditions even more truly Mediterranean than our more forgiving inland version.


The three factors of the coastal challenge:


  1. High and frequent winds
  2. Often sandy, fast-draining soils
  3. Salt – both in the air and often in the groundwater


Because of the less extreme temperature fluctuations near large bodies of water, you can also often push your boundaries with beach plants a little more than you can farther inland, which is always fun! 🙂 As a result of this, you will, for example, see Phormiums at the coast of a size you hardly ever see in Portland. 

And I’ll bet coastal gardeners have never even heard of a “Phormium winter” like we experience in Portland from time to time, when all our lovingly tended New Zealand flax dies.


phormium plants blowing in the beach wind1. Phormiums

This Phormium is in bloom, which is another feature we don’t often see in Portland. It is of an entirely different proportion than its inland brothers and sisters.

Escallonia flowers on the beach2. Escallonia

The windy coastal conditions creates a need for screening. Here, the evergreen density of Escallonia is put to work to create shelter from the breezy barrages so often experienced on seaside properties.

Bergenia, Agapanthus, Sedums, Zauschneria, Cistus beach coastal garden living3. Climbing Roses, Agapanthus, Sedums, Zauschneria, Cistus

Climbing roses, Bergenia, Agapanthus, Sedums, Zauschneria, Cistus and ornamental grasses accompany the dark foliage of the ornamental cherries anchoring this coastal cottage garden.

flowers on sidewalk beach town coastal living4. Leucadendron

There is a decidedly Californian flair over this seaside, streetside garden – Leucadendron, Parahebe perfoliata, Phormium, ornamental grasses, Ilex, etc. The large Rhododendrons in the background give a nod to a more traditional Oregon plant palette.

Hebes beach plants coastal breeze5. Hebes

Hebes is a great alternative – here seen with a wind-whipped Pine. The general rule of thumb when it comes to Hebe varieties is that the smaller the leaf, the hardier they are.

evergreen blossoms on the oregon coast6. Coastal Hebes

Since you can push the envelope in milder coastal climates, you can get away with using showier, larger-leaved varieties. Hebes are evergreen and bloom for a long time, with white, pink, or purple blossoms. They are quintessential west coach beach plants.

Agapanthus flowers in bloom on the beach7. Erigeron and Agapanthus

Erigeron is a tough, pretty, mounding plant that blooms for a long time with small, daisy-like flowers. Here placed in front of a row of Agapanthus.

succulents on the beach thrive well8. Succulents

Succulents are a fantastic option! Agaves, Sedum, and Sempervivum all perform fantastically. Here is the hot pink Delosperma planted with pink Seathrift (Armeria) that has mostly finished blooming.

succulents on the side of a rock on the beach9. Sedums and Sempervivums

These incredibly exposed wild succulents were growing on a vertical rock face out in the ocean. These are a mix of Sedums and Sempervivums.

eucalyptus thrives in wet beach environments10. Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus is a perfect evergreen tree for fast-draining soils. The leaves might turn red when heat stressed.

Agapanthus beach plants beautiful coastal living 11. Junipers

Conifers often do well on the coast. Junipers, Pines, and Cypresses are common. Here is the free-form silhouette of a conifer paired with a more formally clipped broadleaf evergreen shrub and the sky blue rounds of the Agapanthus.

pines on the beach12. Exposed Pines

These exposed Pines put up a constant battle against the Western winds of the Pacific Ocean. As you can see, wind is a major factor in seaside gardens. Use the lee side of your house to your advantage to cultivate your less sturdy plants.

Echium is a great plant that can thrive on the beach13. Echium

The dramatic foliage of an Echium is a great addition to any garden, but be sure to put it in a less windy spot to ensure its towering flowers do not collapse.

rosemary does remarkably well on the coast14. Rosemary

Rosemary does phenomenally well on the coast. After all, it is a Mediterranean plant in a very Mediterranean climate.

beautiful hydrangeas do great on the coast15. Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas do great on the coast. This one is on the lee side of a building with an eastern exposure, but normally this would be a great spot for a Hydrangea, but this one is looking rather sad. Hydrangeas are thirsty plants and love ample moisture. If you plant them in fast-draining soils, you need to provide them enough water to look their best. You can see from the crispy mopheads that the above Hydrangea is not entirely happy. 🙁 

Cordyline Astralis is a california beach plant that exists in southern oregon16. Cordyline Australis

You can tell that these photos are from the southern Oregon coast, as some of the plants are decidedly Californian in stature. Here are a couple of mature Cordyline Australis – the likes of which you may not readily see on the northern coast. Yuccas might be a good alternative in those colder areas.

california poppies look beautiful on this waterfront property17. California Poppies

A little past their prime, but still lovely, tough-as-nails California poppies adorn the seaside landscape. It doesn’t get much better than that!

Roses, Crocosmias, Agastache, Ceanothus, Achillea, Salal, Lavender, Santolina, Cannas, Poppies, … the list of tough, excellent, salt-tolerant plants is a long one. You can find an excellent list here. Hopefully, this post will give you some ideas of what might work where you are. We are always available to answer more questions. Just stop by our Portland garden center in the Raleigh Hills neighborhood.

A lifelong Oregon resident, Drake has been passionate about plants since childhood, beginning with propagating and growing flowers at his grandfather’s nursery. He opened Drake’s 7 Dees in 1974, while earning degrees in Business and Horticulture from Oregon State University. He later expanded into the design/build side of the industry, allowing him to combine his passion for plants with his love of family by maximizing the quality of family time spent outdoors.

Drake is co-founder of the Oregon Landscape Contractors Association and is a Landscape Industry Certified Manager (LICM)—a designation that less than two percent of landscapers have attained. Additionally, Drake serves on the Board of Directors for the Portland Japanese Gardens, widely regarded as one of the seven best Japanese gardens outside of Japan.

Drake is married to former Oregon Speaker of the House, Lynn Snodgrass. Together, he and Lynn received the Farm Bureau President’s award in 1999 for their service and dedication to agriculture in the state of Oregon. Drake and Lynn have two wonderful daughters, two talented son-in-laws, and seven grandchildren. In his spare time, Drake enjoys camping, water and snow skiing, reading, and of course, gardening.

Born and raised in the Portland Metro Area… Tim has had an appreciation for the outdoors from a young age.  Inspired by our local beauty ranging: the Mt Hood National Forest to salty, sea spray of Cannon Beach, the arid high-desert of Central Oregon to the rugged terrain of Steens Mountain – Tim sought higher education at the University of Idaho in their Landscape Architecture department.  Graduating with honors in 2004, he returned home to establish his professional career.

Now making his home in Sandy, Oregon – Tim and his wife [Nicole] are raising two happy and healthy kiddos and 4 fur-babies.  Between soccer, football, cheerleading, girl scouts and other extra-curricular activities… the Sellin family are heavily involved in their community and church family.  Since college, Tim has spent 13 of his 17 years with Drake’s 7 Dees and has ‘set roots’ in anticipation of long-term growth at the family-focused company.  Having spent his time away from Drake’s in a ‘boots on the ground’ capacity, Tim has fostered a love for the operational/production side of landscape business, as well as the design/sales.

His goal in life as well as business is to put others first.

Bachelor of Science Landscape Architecture, BSLA… 2009
California Polytechnic University, Pomona… Cum Laude
American Society of Landscape Architects – Honor Award

Steven has 15 years of experience in the residential landscape design/build and garden center industry, including 9 years with Drake’s 7 Dees. Steven also has experience working with the National Park Service in Yosemite on sub-alpine restoration projects, as well as volunteer experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer serving the community of Zaouiat d’Ifrane in Morocco.

Together, Steven and his wife Anna have four lovely children, all 5 years old and under! In his (very limited) spare time, Steven enjoys camping, hiking, archery hunting, and cooking. Steven’s passion for his work lies in helping others, through design to envision a more beautiful space that, once built, becomes a reality that improves their quality of life.