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Reviving the patio

by: Vern Uyetake, Rock mason Matt Goddard of Poetry in Stone replaced two decks in a Lake Oswego backyard with a curved masterpiece made of stone.

What is a backyard, truly?

Sure, it's often a little extra breathing room between you and your neighbor and a place for the kids - and family pet - to run freely. But, it could also be a maintenance nightmare or unused space.

A backyard is a special space all your own to share with friends and family. It's a place to make memories. It's a place to grow and watch things grow. A backyard is a little piece of the world that you can do whatever you want with - well, almost.

So why not be proud of it?

After 14 years of wear and tear, Mike and Ana Ryan's backyard needed some updating. Their private Lake Oswego property - which backs up to the Lake Oswego Municipal Golf Course - featured a small brick patio, potting shed, dying grass and overgrown shrubs, all surrounding two large weathered decks.

Working with landscape designer Tricia Larson of Savant Garden Design and stone mason Matt Goddard from Poetry in Stone, the Ryan's transformed the area where their two rectangular decks were once located into a private, one-level free-flowing space that incorporates the timeless beauty of stone and seasonal foliage.

'It's shady so we wanted to bring in plants with color and texture to make it look good year 'round,' said Larson.

Last summer, the backyard felt stiff. The layout was boxy in appearance and cluttered from overgrown plants on an above hill. Each corner was a right angle, and two tiered decks made the space more complicated than it had to be.

Larson's plan called for some curves to liven the space up a bit and add some subtle femininity to the space shared by the five boys in the Ryan's family. Using polished concrete, the ground is now easy to maneuver during gatherings and easy to clean up.

Now completed, the space is divided into quadrants - an area for sitting, pathways for walking and a corner to cozy up near a fire pit. A rock wall serves as a functional art piece, separating plants and a hidden drainage system above and the space used for entertaining below it. And it's curved to make the yard look more interesting.

'For a lot of people - especially if they want natural stone - curves are just the way to go. They just wanted a more natural, informal look,' Larson said. 'Most people want that natural, peaceful feeling for their garden.'

The wall also serves as an element to solve drainage and erosion problems. Before, water from the upper portion of the yard had no where to go and cascaded onto the decks below.

Now, the water is soaked within a hidden French drain behind the wall and funneled to a lower elevation. In other words, the natural waterfall is now caught before water can build up behind the uniquely shaped wall.

'The Ryan's backyard had potential. Mike and Ana, from the start, were receptive, flexible (and) tolerant. I think they wanted something truly custom and of high quality,' Goddard said.

To create a wall that would not only serve functionally - as a buffer from water runoff - but also as a focal point, Goddard created a design that incorporated both, with an Oregon twist.

'The Ryan's wanted some vivid color for their wall,' Goddard said. 'We used five different types of stone from Montana and some of the pieces were very difficult to shape. There was the practical issue of total cost, so we decided that some of the local basalt would keep the cost down and give the wall a Northwest flavor.'

Each rock within the wall was hand-carved to fit and mortared on the backside out of view, said Larson. Goddard created changes in elevation on the wall for added interest and added three small ledges in the corner - a perfect spot for seasonal greens or candles.

'The shelves and niches were one of the many design elements that spawned during the building process. They were actually a trade for some massive feature stones we had discussed earlier in the project,' Goddard said.

With stone works throughout the Portland-metro area as well as at Timberline Lodge, the historic Stadium High School in Tacoma and fireplaces in Hood River, Goddard's craft is custom designed for each space. The Ryan's wall is uniquely theirs and now the livelihood of the backyard space.

Just next to the patio area, a small number of sandstone and limestone rocks created a staircase leading to the upper part of the yard. The marigold rocks look almost metallic as the sun hits them.

'I love when the sun hits them in the morning,' Ryan said.

And from several rooms in the house, the Ryan's have views of the backyard - and that was the idea.

'When I design a garden, it's very important to see what it looks like from the interior. Ana wanted wildlife and relatively low maintenance,' Larson said.

'The plants - some natives - attract wildlife, primarily birds, and beneficial insects. Also, a birdbath, and some rocks with a natural depression on top hold water, which attracts the birds too.'

Above the steps a shady pathway with stepping stones and shrubs will thrive with little care. Before this area was avoided but is now used as a mini-park. Ryan said she is excited to spend her first summer within the new backyard.

'I'm out here a lot; my youngest is also out here a lot too - with friends, running around the path and on the wall (while playing) with action figures,' Ryan said.

At night, lights on a timer illuminate the wall and beckon the Ryans into their new space - which blends classic elements with functionality.

'It's my favorite room in the house,' Ryan said. 'It's a nice, private backyard. It's really peaceful. And I don't have to dust and vacuum it.'

For more information about Savant Garden Design in Lake Oswego, visit the Web site at www. savantgardendesign.com. For more information about Poetry in Stone in Portland, visit www.poetryinstone.com.