Nature: a final frontier

Subtle green or vibrant with color, outdoor landscapes offer peace and life

Last week the rains came back, but we got a wee bit of sunshine in between the squalls. The moment the sun peeked out I grabbed my four-year-old grandson, Kaden, and we wandered the wetlands trail along a section of Rock Creek that flows through the Orenco area.

Once we hit the trail, Kaden began chattering about animals, so we stopped, looked and listened.

A symphony of song birds tickled our ears and we spied a hummingbird resting on a branch. Kaden then decided it was time to be a lion. He crouched in the grass and roared. That flushed out another few birds and a small golden feline of the house variety.

After Kaden turned back into a curious little boy, I pointed out all the wild fruits and flowers. The field was full of wild roses, ninebark, berry brambles and a number of trees, including cherry, Douglas fir and Western Red Cedar. We even saw some snapdragons that had self-seeded in an eight-foot-tall block wall.

I love observing nature and contemplating how it teaches me to be a better designer. I've learned that nature is not chaotic. Plants repeat themselves in small masses creating unity. They also congregate together in layers that provide visual diversity as well as a protective habitat for God's creatures.

When I design I think about those layers and use that example to give depth and interest to my designs. I also vary the color and texture of leaves to add sparkle. I often repeat two or three colors over and over again using different size and shaped plants, to create unity that doesn't become boring or commonplace. Nature can also be subtle by only using shades of green. The color green is very peaceful. I use multiple shades of green with soft pastels to create quiet shady retreats.

Forests painted red, orange and gold in the fall remind me that vibrant colors are also important. When I'm designing a sunny garden that needs to look great throughout the hot summer months, I feature bright flower colors on hardy shrubs and perennials, mixed with ornamental grasses that withstand the heat. Roses, Black-eyed Susans, Dahlias and Coreopsis are great plants for the summer.

Nature even teaches how to be quiet, yet interesting. I always marvel at how a forest looks void of color when it's blanketed in snow. All the evergreen plants seem to look black as they stand out in vivid contrast against the white snow and the gray sky. This reminds me that plants must have bold features to have visual interest in the winter.

Just as Kaden turned into a frog and started hopping along the gravel path, the skies began to spritz and we headed back home to warm ourselves with blankets and cocoa and wonder why it has to rain in June.

Ann Nickerson has lived and practiced landscape design in Tualatin Valley since 1993. You can contact her at or by phone at 503-846-1352