Magazine article Sunset

Cinderella Makeover: How a Barren Backyard in Oregon Became a Dreamy Space. (Garden & Outdoor Living)

Magazine article Sunset

Cinderella Makeover: How a Barren Backyard in Oregon Became a Dreamy Space. (Garden & Outdoor Living)

Article excerpt

Not too long ago, this backyard in Beaverton, Oregon, looked so bleak that the homeowners admit they used to leave the curtains down all the time "because it was so gross Out there." Then one day, Oprah Winfrey announced that she was searching for a "nightmare yard" to transform as a topic on her show. So the homeowners submitted a video of the barren 86- by 35-foot backyard, showing a dead fir surrounded by straggly grass (above). Then they crossed their fingers.

Their wish came true. The yard was chosen for an instant garden makeover. To accomplish a swift transformation, the Oprah Winfrey Show's producers enlisted the help of Los Angeles landscape designer Nicholas Walker of Jardin du Jour and Portland-based Craig Prunty of All Oregon Landscaping.

"I'd done a makeover before in three days," Walker explains, "but Oprah's people said, 'You have to do it in two.' We made it happen because we all worked together as a team."

In those two whirlwind days, a 20-person team regraded the hillside, forming wide berms for borders around the perimeter; planted trees and flowering shrubs; added finishing touches like a garden bench; and installed a lawn of perennial rye grass sod. They even installed a cheerful 4- by 4-foot playhouse in one corner for the couple's daughter.

By choosing plants the owners could maintain easily, the design team ensured that this wonder garden wouldn't disappear once the television crew departed. The designers relied mainly on trees and shrubs with striking foliage color and texture, plus a few seasonal bloomers like rhododendrons. Plants needing more maintenance, like annuals, perennials, and roses, were used only as accents.

Two years later, the yard looks more lush than the day it was planted. Instead of shunning it as they once did, the homeowners say they now plan events around the garden.

The landscape is filled with ideas, like the multilayered plantings on the berms, a dry creek bed that runs from the fence and spills into the lawn, and a boulder that forms a gently bubbling fountain near the patio.

Unless you have a fairy godmother (or Oprah) with a magic wand, expect that a major garden remodel like this would take a contractor three to four weeks from planning to installation, according to Prunty.

DESIGN TEAM: Nicholas Walker, Jardin du Jour, Los Angeles (310/557-2700); Mario Navarro, All Oregon Landscaping, Portland (503/646-6426)

INSTALLATION: Craig Prunty, All Oregon Landscaping (see above)

PLAYHOUSE: Barbara Butler, Barbara Butler Artist-Builder, San Francisco (415/864-6840)

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