Posted by Sam Williamson

I considered calling this entry, “And You Call Yourself a Stone Mason?” but that doesn’t seem quite fair. Immense blocks of limestone were quarried and moved several miles before being precision-shaped into dry-laid retaining walls; with joints so tight, a piece of paper can’t fit between them. This UNESCO World Heritage site is outside of Cusco, Peru and I saw it with my family for the first time over the Christmas Holiday. (That's me on the far left.)

The biggest of these stone pieces weighed 220 tons and all of this construction took place at an elevation 1000 feet above to top of Mount Hood(!)


Organic Garden Maintenance

Posted by Courtney Skybak

When all the walls have been built, the paths paved, the planting beds mulched and the dust and debris swept away, you can finally relax because your garden is done....kind of. As it turns out, just because the construction of your garden is complete doesn't mean that you can walk away from it and it will take care of itself. A garden is a living thing, growing and changing as the seasons change and the years pass, and maintenance is essential for your landscape to thrive. There is no such thing as a no-maintenance landscape. Too many homeowners forget about maintenance, and as a result they lose some of the value of the investment they've made in a custom-designed landscape.

Before I pursued my landscape architecture degree, I got plenty of exposure to landscape maintenance, taking care of public, private, and municipal landscapes through my various part-time and short-term jobs. I learned conventional methods for keeping a garden looking neat and tidy, including weeding, mulching, mowing, trimming, and applications of fertilizers and pesticides. I've learned through trial and error in my own garden as well, though there I've tended to focus on chemical-free practices. And through my work at SHWA I've witnessed the difference between gardens that are carefully nurtured after installation, and those that are not. The former end up fulfilling the intent of the design, and the latter too often end up looking like a mess.

garden at planting

Above, see one of our gardens right after planting. Below, see how it looked just two years later with good maintenance during the establishment period.

well maintained garden

In order to better offer advice to our clients and to augment my existing knowledge of how to care for the landscape, I have recently completed a certification course in organic gardening administered by Oregon State University's Extension Service, similar to the Master Gardeners course that many of you have likely heard of. This was the first of its kind in the country (hurray, Oregon!), explaining in detail the principles behind organic gardening and farming and providing lots of hands-on in-the-garden learning experiences. The 60-hour course, held over several Saturdays this fall, covered an enormous amount of material and underscored the importance of cultivating a balanced community of plants, animals, and microorganisms in the garden. Each section of the class was taught by an expert in that particular topic. I learned a great deal and look forward to learning much more when I complete the Master Gardeners certification this winter. Here are a few highlights of what I learned:

1. Most plant problems in the garden are symptoms of mis-management, not evidence of pests or disease. A plant will never do well if it is planted in the wrong place or given too much or too little of the sunlight, water, or fertility that it needs.

2. The first step in treating most pest or disease problems is good hygiene: removing and discarding afflicted plants or parts of plants.

3. Fruit trees in general are very high-maintenance, especially if you want a good harvest. Figs and persimmons are two exceptions to this rule, and are beautiful trees to boot.

4. Preserving and enhancing soil structure and fertility are essential to nurturing a thriving garden. That means protecting the soil from compaction, and making sure it is rich in organic matter. An annual top-dressing of well-composted mulch helps on both these counts.

5. Insects are an important part of the garden, especially pollinators. Most insects will do NO damage to the plants in your landscape, and on the contrary help them to thrive. Many insecticides don't discriminate, and will kill off the beneficial insects as well as pests.

6. Understanding the life cycle of a garden pest can make it much easier to minimize its presence in the garden without resorting to harmful chemicals. It's amazing how helpful it can be to know exactly what you're dealing with.

7. An important aspect of managing the landscape is actually managing one's expectations. Plants are not pieces of furniture; they are living things that will grow and change over time.

8. Investing in the proper tools and learning how to correctly use and maintain them can make garden work a much more enjoyable experience.

The course comprised a lot of work and a lot of fun. I look forward to continuing my education over the winter, and putting it to work for our clients. If you have any questions about how to care for your landscape and make it look its best, don't hesitate to give us a call. We are happy to offer on-site maintenance consultations or draft landscape management documents to guide our clients and their landscape crews in nurturing a thriving and beautiful landscape.



The Crumpled Dock

Posted by Joel Port

I've recently been working on the schematic design of a lakeside dock here in Oregon.

Rather than a small collection of flat planes for the various levels of the dock and retaining walls, Sam envisioned a crumpled surface of gentle slopes. We took inspiration from other notable landscape and architectural projects as the Simcoe Wavedock in Toronto, skateparks, the Oslo Opera House, sailboat decking, and hang glider launch ramps (of all things!). We've been adapting concepts from those projects to better suit the homeowners' specific needs and the site. Tilted planes of decking will disguise retaining walls, transition between different levels of the dock, and accommodate a kayak/canoe launch ramp.

Initially it was difficult to envision how the many planes of decking would intersect and relate with each other. So, we turned to Sketch-Up for help. The three-dimensional modeling program is a very useful tool for us at SHWA. Before long, we had a study model from which we could further develop the design and accurately convey our vision to the homeowners.

So, from loose, trace paper sketches...

we created a Sketch-Up study model...

The homeowners are enthusiastic about the plan. I'm excited too and am looking forward to the finished product! Check back at our blog for updates on the progress.



A New Home

Posted by Courtney Skybak

Office Exterior

After several years in Portland's Pearl District, SHWA has made the move to a new neighborhood, one that is much like what the Pearl used to be when Sam opened his office there in 1999. Our new office is in the SE warehouse district, near the Hawthorne bridge, and we couldn't be happier with it. We've joined a rich and varied community of creative businesses housed within the historic warehouses and workshops sandwiched between the Willamette River and the bustling Martin Luther King Boulevard.

It took us a couple of weeks to settle into our new office, using paint, furniture, and our own creativity to make the space our own. Being designers and problem-solvers, the tailoring of this new space to meet our needs has actually been fun, though exhausting, and we are happy to be nearing completion. The move has also been a great opportunity to sort through the years' accumulation of stuff, get rid of things we don't use, and reorganize the rest to be most useful to us. I've always found that process, creating order from the chaos, to be particularly satisfying.

Office Interior

I am quite fond of the vaulted ceilings and long bank of big south-facing windows in our new space. It's interesting to think about the past of this old building, to try to interpret the evidence left behind in the old wood floors, decommissioned pipes and wires, and walls of different materials and ages. I wonder what the life of this building has been since it was built in the early twenties.

One of the greatest benefits of our new home compared to the old one is the company we now keep. Our old office was tucked into an out-of-the-way corner on the second floor of an old industrial building, which meant we very rarely saw any of our neighbors. Our new location is much more prominent, so we regularly get to chat with the furniture makers, builder, seamstress, architectural renderer, and glass blower that work nearby. It really has been a pleasure to get to know our neighbors.

There is one additional aspect of our new home that I find particularly charming. Every day at 11:00 on the dot a food-vending truck pulls up in front of one of the buildings down the street, and as it does so it honks its horn, which is incredibly loud and has the most comical melody. It makes me smile every time. So I'm guaranteed to smile at least once a day!

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