Backyard spa in the wild

Create the look of an alpine retreat with nature-inspired elements

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Reminiscent of a natural hot spring in the Northwest's mountains, this inviting spa was constructed in a 30- by 50-foot suburban backyard. Landscape designer Barbara Simon and contractor Alfred Dinsdale brought the look to Elizabeth and Mark Ruis's southeast Portland home by incorporating many elements found in an alpine setting.

Water and plants carry the mountain theme throughout the garden. Opposite the spa on the far side of a central patio, a stream arises from the backyard forest and spills over a log, splashing into a shallow, stony rill that skirts one side of the patio before disappearing underground. The 20-foot-long streambed is reinforced with concrete so that children (and adults) can wade through it. For safety, the entire watercourse drains back into an 800-gallon underground holding tank when the recirculating pump is turned off.

To complete the scene, small conifers such as Abies koreana 'Prostrate Beauty' and Pinus parviflora 'Ara-kawa' soften the edges, while Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light' and Carex elata 'Bowles Golden' weave among the boulders.

The natural look of the landscape conceals deft craftsmanship. Colored, carved, and textured sprayed cement forms the spa and surrounding rocks. Rusted steel tubing and rods make up an artistic 4-foot-tall fence that resembles arching grasses. The log that creates the waterfall is clad in thin copper sheeting, pressed and glued to highlight underlying bark patterns. The result is a garden that feels both peaceful and playful.

THREE GREAT IDEAS FROM THIS GARDEN

1. Mirror the look of nature
Simon chose small evergreens, such as pines and firs, and then planted grasses and redtwig dogwood to evoke a mountain locale.

2. Link natural and manmade features through color 
Simon created an autumn palette using a rusted steel fence, the cinnamon-colored trunk of paperbark maple ( Acer griseum), and a copper-clad waterfall log.

3. Think child safety around water
Here, the fence around the spa combines artistry and practicality; the stream is sturdy enough for play; the waterfall is pondless; and the stream drains when not in use.

Design: Barbara Simon Landscape Design, Portland (503/774-7415).

Installation and design: Dinsdale Landscape Contractors, Sherwood, OR (503/925-9292).

Fence design: Kate Simmons, Oregon City, OR (503/939-6503).

 

 

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