Imagine the whisper of broadleafed plants rustling together. The slow, steady trickle of water over a fountain. A collection of plants painted in warm yellows, gorgeous greens and vibrant reds. It sounds a little like a tropical paradise, doesn’t it? Surprisingly, this is a backyard near you. Right in the middle of rainy, noisy Portland, as a matter of fact.

Created by Michael Schultz, a landscape designer and the owner of Michael Schultz Landscape Design, along with his partner Will Goodman, an abstract oil painter, this garden is located in the back of their house in the Mocks Crest neighborhood. The couple purchased their house 11 years ago, but they were dreaming of their garden – and the cast iron fountain that would be its centerpiece – long before. “We really had an idea of what we wanted long before we found the house,” Goodman says. “We wanted to take a basic backyard and create a courtyard out of the whole thing. Michael is a landscape designer by profession, and I studied art education and design in college, so we work really well together.”

The house has an extended garage, so two sides of the backyard are buildings. This L-shaped backyard appealed to the couple’s desire to create a space that had a real sense of enclosure. They also bought the house next door, and its empty yard, a little more than four years ago. Both lots are typical in size, about 100x65 feet, but the various gardens – and the use of structures and hardscape – give the space the illusion of being much larger than it is without losing the intimate feeling. “We varied the textures and forms to create an intimacy that you might find in an interior space,” Schultz says. “The main intent of the central courtyard was to have our own oasis of seclusion when coming home from a busy day.”

Despite the small space, they had big plans for the garden right from the beginning. “We’re really interested in design, more than just plants,” Goodman says. “We believe that structures and hardscapes not only give you something to look at in the wintertime, they give you the bones of the garden.”

Some of those structures are a three tier cast iron fountain, an old door from a church, a gazebo, and bronze temple lions. The hardscapes run the gamut from terraces and patios to cast concrete columns. Many of the elements – especially the curved ones – are made of cast concrete. “We love the idea of taking this rigid, heavy material and making it look fluid,” Goodman says. “We’ve incorporated a lot of radiuses or curves into the design of the concrete work. This requires much more time when building the forms but the end result is worth it.”

One of the most intriguing “structures” is the unusual and modern koi pond. “A few years ago, we thought, ‘Oh let’s have a few fish, just for fun,’” says Goodman. “But over the years, the fish got bigger and had babies and then we had lots of fish. We realized it was time for a larger koi pond.” The new pond has a concrete bottom with concrete walls. The two flange walls that jut out of the water are also cast concrete covered with a stone veneer of Montana moss stone.

The koi aren’t the only inhabitants of the couple’s backyard gardens. “Snack”, the couple’s fourteen-year -old Jack Russell Terrier thinks the backyard is a play space designed just for her. “She’s high spirited, and always getting into trouble,” Goodman says. “But we would get her again in an instant. She’s the best.”

One of the popular structures in the garden is Goodman’s painting studio, which occupies the tandem garage, and looks over the main courtyard. Although, he sometimes wishes it was more popular than it is. “People come over to see the paintings, and they start looking out the windows,” Goodman says with a laugh. “Sometimes I think the garden is too nice.”

Despite their focus on design and hardscapes over greenery, the couple knows a lot about what they plant in the garden, and they choose their plants as carefully as they do their sculptures. In fact, Schultz can give the Latin names of most of the plants in their backyard. They practically roll off his tongue, from the Malvaceae shrub (you might know it as Moonchimes) to the Sempervivum tectorum (simply, hens and chicks).

“We played more on the strength of a plant for its foliage and form rather than its flower or color,” says Schultz. To that end, they aimed for a tropical feel, using big-leaved plants such as hardy banana trees, which can grow up to 18 or 20 feet and are hardy to almost zero degrees.

Looking at their gardens now, the couple is pleased with what they’ve created, despite the amount of work that went into it. “The thing I like most is that we have created a garden that is seeded with interest and variety while at the same time creating a relatively low-maintenance environment,” says Schultz.

And it’s a good thing it’s low maintenance – like many gardeners, designers and artists, Schultz and Goodman can’t – and don’t want to – stop. Though they recently sold the house and garden next door to a friend, they’re in the process of buying the house and the lot behind them. And, of course, they’ve already got big plans for that new land. “We’re really gung-ho about the new garden,” Goodman says. “It’s going to be connected to the main courtyard, so there is going to be a lot more energy flowing between the two spaces now.”