Ross NW Watergardens takes on challenge of redesigning mature landscape

Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTOS: ROSS NW WATERGARDENS - Ross NW Watergardens recently completed phase one of a design to rejuvenate a classic Japanese garden. Part of the design was to enhance this dryscape courtyard leading to the main entrance.

Sometimes you really can’t see the forest for the trees.

That was the case at a West Linn house with an overgrown garden. Originally created in the style of a classic Portland Japanese garden, the years had taken a toll; according to Ben Bowen, landscape designer with Ross NW Watergardens, random plants had sprouted in odd places and trees had been mangled by storms.

“I am sure it was a beautiful garden at one time,” Bowen said. “Our client wanted to remove what couldn’t be salvaged, save everything possible and then add new elements.”

It was a big job, but Bowen took on the challenge of redesigning the mature landscape. Ross NW Watergardens specialized in Japanese gardens and provides design and landscaping services.

Originally built in 1979, the house had stood empty for 18 months before the new owners moved in. They had moved from Hawaii, and wanted to enhance the Japanese flair of the gardens which cover almost an acre.

“They wanted to bring back the Japanese feel to the garden,” Bowen said. “The project was a blend of how it used to be and how they wanted to use it now.”

The homeowners wanted to add a firepit to their property. Designer Ben Bowen said this was already the favorite feature in the backyard, even though they havent used it much.

Bowen spent three months developing a design, which included many elements. A fire pit and stone bench were added in a secluded corner in the backyard, which is heavily forested. In summer it will be very private, hidden by the heavy leaf coverage. It is accessible by a winding path through the backyard.

“It’s already their favorite spot in the backyard, even though they haven’t been able to use it much,” Bowen said.

Blue stone slabs were placed in the dryscape garden in the front, side and back yards.

The main entrance to the house has a low ceiling and was not very visible. Bowen’s design opened the entry through the remnants of a dry garden. He enhanced the dry garden by using the sharp edge of steel to create curved areas for pea gravel and blue stone slabs on both sides of the walkway. The hardscape of the gravel and steel is accented with plants. The blue stone slabs are echoed in the back and side yards.

Bowen said he discovered several large boulders under layers of bark dust and vinca, which he was able to reposition throughout the garden.

Several large boulders were found on the property. Covered in moss, they add character to the garden.

“They had loads of moss and lots of character,” he said. “Some were well over 1,500 pounds. We brought in a tractor and set them where we wanted them.”

A water feature in the backyard needed a great deal of repair. The filtration system was replaced and other repairs made, and now it works fine; the clients hope to eventually stock it with koi.

Near the garage, screens were erected to soften the expanse of the garage wall and add a Japanese element.

Cedar fencing was added along the garage wall, reminiscent of bamboo screens popular in Japanese gardens.

“They help break up the large gray wall and guide the eye to the main entrance,” Bowen said. “They are also reminiscent of bamboo screens used in Japanese landscapes.” Made of cedar, they add a natural look to what was before just a dull, long wall.

Phase one of the project also included enclosing a large garden area with fencing to keep deer out, plus more items.

Thanks to Bowen’s keen eye for seeing the potential in the garden, it is well on its way to recovery. Phase two will begin after the pouring of a new pool deck.

“As long as there isn’t ice or snow, we’ll work,” Bowen said.

A family business, Ross NW Watergardens is owned by Ross “Joe” Bowen. Ben Bowen is a third-generation landscaper and has been working in the family business since 2003. He writes “Portland Landscaping Blog” and articles which have been featured in “Lawn & Landscape,” on, in “Total Landscaping Care” and other publications.

To learn more about Ross NW Watergardens, visit or call 503-761-3683.

To contact Barb Randall, call 503-636-1281 ext. 100 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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