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Landscaping for People and Planet

Ecological Landscapes

  • Food Forest, Garden Bed
  • Native Ecoscape, Ecolawn
  • Rain Garden, Stormwater Facility
  • Regenerative, Permaculture

Beyond Organic / Sustainable

  • Reverse Climate Change
  • Restore Habitats / Wildlife
  • Less Maintenance, Save Water
  • No Pesticide / Herbicide

10+ Years of Experience. Licensed (#9913), Insured, Bonded.

Certified Professional for the Backyard Habitat Program.

We will be closed Dec 25 – Jan 1.


Design · Installation · Maintenance

Servicing Portland Metro Area
Residential & Commercial

Food Forests and Garden Beds

We use Regenerative Ecology to create edible ecosystems that are more resilient and productive than conventional methods. See our edible ecoscapes and raised beds.

Native Ecoscapes and Ecolawns

A native yard restores habitats and wildlife, and conserves water. It requires less maintenance, and no fertilizers or pesticides. See our native ecoscapes. An ecolawn may be an option when an ecoscape is not possible.

Ecological Maintenance

Year-round maintenance, one-time cleanup, weeding, pruning, tree care, etc. We use electric tools and no pesticides / herbicides. How is ecological maintenance different?

Commercial Stormwater Facility / Habita Restoration

Our expertise in native plants and ecosystems makes us a good fit for stormwater facilities and other commercial projects.

What is a Food Forest?

More Harvest · Less Work

On a conventional farm, whether it is in an apple orchard or a lettuce farm, you often see rows of evenly spaced plants of the same height. Yet in nature, plants grow all different sizes with many varieties of species. You often see short trees under tall trees, tall shrubs under short trees, short shrubs under tall shrubs, etc.

A food forest mimics a natural forest to create an ecosystem for effective food production. One arrangement of a food forest can be tall nut trees, dwarf fruit trees, berry shrubs, supportive herbs, vegetables, edible ground covers, mushrooms.

This compact layering of plants maximizes sunlight and nutrient utilization to create higher yield with less land. It also creates a habitat where the plants, insects, fungi, and bacteria interact and benefit from each other. Such a balanced system leaves no room for weeds, attracts beneficial organisms that minimize pests,  increases water retention, and restores soil nutrients.

We offer many varieties of food systems, including perennial vegetable gardens, medicine gardens, herb gardens, fruit tree guilds, or a combination of the above.

What is a Native Ecoscape?

Restore Habitats · Less Maintenance

Humming Bird and Red-flowering Currant

See Our Native Ecoscapes

Native plants take the least amount of time and money to maintain, simply because they are already adapted to the climate and soil conditions of their region. They also don’t need fertilizers or pesticides.

Native plants attract butterflies, birds, pollinators, and beneficial insects by providing food and habitat for them. They help restore plant and animal habitats in your local ecosystems. Some native plants can also be used as food and medicines for humans.

We carefully select and install plants that thrive in the particular microclimate of your yard. We pair plants together that have beneficial relationship to each other. This creates a resilient ecosystem, an ecoscape, that requires less maintenance once established.

We offer many varieties of native ecoscapes, including butterfly gardens, bird gardens, meadowscapes, woodlands, rain gardens etc. You can also combine native ecoscapes with food forests to create your unique homestead.

An ecolawn may be an option when none of the above is possible. While an ecolawn is still more ecological than a conventional lawn, it is significantly less beneficial than a full-blown native ecoscape, and harder to establish.

Regenerative Ecological Paradigm

Our landscaping philosophy and practice

The term “regenerative” describes systems that replenish and reproduce their own sources of energy and materials. For example, in a forest, plants are eaten (repurposed) by animals. The “waste” from animals gets further repurposed by worms, fungi and bacteria into nutrient dense soil, which is then repurposed by plants again.

Hardly anything is “wasted” in this regenerative system. The energy and materials are instead moved and transformed from one part of the system to the next, and eventually circle back to the originator.

This circular regeneration is in direct contrast to many conventional / industrial processes. Even ones labeled “green”, “sustainable”, “eco-friendly”, “organic” still operate in one direction – consume then dispose. At best, these processes produce zero negative impact – zero carbon – doing no harm.

However, zero negative impact is not enough. We need positive impact. We need to recapture carbon, reverse climate change, and restore our crippled planetary system. Regenerative Ecological Paradigm can do just that.

Regenerative Ecological Paradigm (REP) is the process of learning, designing, creating, and facilitating resilient systems using the patterns that already work well in nature – systems that replenish and reproduce renewable resources, systems that persist and evolve without much external intervention, systems that nurture all of their inhabitants, etc.

We know REP works, because many natural systems of our planet have persisted for tens of millions of years with the same principles. For example, the Amazon rain forest persisted for 50 million years.

Humans (especially indigenous people) have also been using REP for landscaping and farming for tens of thousands of years. Only in modern times, had it been replaced by degenerative practices that deplete soil nutrients, waste water, pollute the environment, destroy wildlife, and exacerbate climate change with constant application of petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides.

REP, on the other hand, regenerates soil and water, recaptures carbon, and revitalizes the planet again. Fortunately, REP is having a come back recently. You may have heard it as different terms – permaculture, agroecology, agroforestry, system thinking, holistic design, resilience design, etc. A big part of SymbiOp’s mission is to fully utilize REP in our landscaping services and spread its knowledge further. Click here to read more about why REP is better than sustainable or organic practice.

Consultation, Design, Installation Process

Professional Standard Customized to Individual Needs

Most of our projects take place in 3 stages: Consultation, Design, Installation.

At the consultation, our lead designer will walk through your property with you, assess the conditions of the land, understand your needs/goals, and help you visualize what’s possible. We will then send you an estimate for the design. After that, we will be able to tell you how much the design will cost.

During the design, our team of designers will develop your vision further, layout the elements of your backyard ecosystem, and create a detailed installation plan. We will work with you to find the best materials and methods within your budget constraints.

Depending on the project, your final design document can include architectural drawings/plans, plants attributes/benefits, ecosystem functions and how you can interact with them, and more. It will also include an exact cost estimate, if you choose to hire us to install the design. You can of course hire someone else, or do it yourself.

Our installation will be conducted by our team of experienced installers, lead by one of our installation leads. This team will finish your project in a professional, timely, tidy, and safe manner.

Throughout the installation, our lead designer will also come on-site to assure everything is done correctly. Whenever you have any concerns, you can talk to the installation lead or the designer directly, email us, or just call us during our business hours.

If you also decide to hire us for year-round maintenance, we will try to assign workers that already worked on your project, since they are already familiar with the design.

For pricing and other logistics information, please see the frequently asked questions on our contact/consultation form.

Ecological Maintenance vs Traditional Maintenance

Remove Harms & Provide Benefits

Ecological maintenance has many facets. First, it is organic, which means we don’t use conventional pesticide/herbicides/fungicides that can harm you, your family, and the planet. Second, we use less-aggressive procedures – hand pruning instead of machine trimming when possible. This promotes long-term health of the plants. When we do use machines, we opt for electric ones to reduce our carbon footprint, air pollution, and noise pollution.

Beyond organic and electric, ecological maintenance ultimately aims to transform your yard into a natural habitat for birds, pollinators, beneficial insects, and other wildlife. In order to do this properly, however, we first have to change our perception of what a maintained ecological landscape looks like, because it can look very different from a conventional landscape.

The manicured tidy look of conventional landscapes is only possible because of the usage of herbicides, landscape fabric, and aggressive trimming. Such tidiness also requires the removal of plant materials that are necessary to support wildlife habitats. If you are used to the conventional manicured look, it might take some time for you to get used to what tidiness looks like for ecological landscapes, and that’s ok!

Because we don’t use herbicides, weeds will still pop up every now and then. Until your ecological landscape has established a dense layer of foliages, any soil exposed to the sun will always invite weeds. This is often true for newly install landscape. Once your landscape matures in 3-6 years, it will be much harder for weeds to establish. The wait depends on how large the initial plants are. Larger initial plants usually mean more upfront cost. Smaller initial plants mean more maintenance cost in the first few years.

In ecological landscapes, plants also grow in wild ways. They may have irregular shapes instead of the unnatural conic or spherical shapes that you see in conventional landscapes. During seasonal changes, your plants may also changes colors and textures in ways that may look “messy”.

For example, many native plants produce seed-heads during spring. As the season transitions to summer, the seed-heads will dry to a brown color.

Conventional landscapers will remove the seed-heads immediately, while ecological landscapers will leave them, because they are important food sources for native birds.

Similarly, as the season transition from fall to winter, your landscape will likely be covered with dead leaves. Conventional landscapers will remove the leaves completely, while ecological landscapers will leave them, because they are not only critical habitats for beneficial insects, but also the best fertilizer / mulch for your soil.

Your neighbors may complain about these unconventional looks, but you will be surrounded by wildlife as your backyard ecosystem becomes more active and lush every year. Plus, some of these “messy” looks only appear during seasonal transitions. For the rest of the year, your yard will generally look tidier.

Some examples of dried seed-heads

A site that we maintain ecologically

Thus, the very concept of manicured conventional landscape goes against what’s best for the people and the planet. For most of our clients who want to do what they can for the greater community and environment, we recommend our twice-a-month ecological maintenance.

Let us to do the more technical part of the maintenance – the necessary care that will help your backyard ecosystem thrive for years to come, while still leaving some room for you to tend your yard too. This way, you get to see how your land moves and breathes up close, forming a more intimate relationship with this living system.

Also because the climate and environment can change in ways we cannot predict, during some years, we might recommend a cleanup or mulching service in addition to the scheduled year-round maintenance, especially for newly installed landscapes. SymbiOp will send estimates of such additional services, if needed, and will not perform them without the Client’s approval.

For pricing and other logistics information, please see the frequently asked questions on our contact/consultation form.

What our clients say

SymbiOp Landscaping
4.7
Based on 30 reviews
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Rev. Lorelei KayRev. Lorelei Kay
16:35 17 Oct 22
I had excellent assistance picking out healthy, affordable, dog-friendly house plants. I'll definitely be back!
Keith QuickKeith Quick
01:36 09 Jun 22
Matt recently redesigned our whole yard. Throughout the process it was pretty clear to me that the whole company is driven by a shared goal of making landscapes friendly for people and the planet. They reused much of the materials I already had on site (pavers, pea gravel etc) and incorporated ecologically friendly designs like a rain garden and drought tolerant plants. They used mostly native plants in our front yard and created a food forest in the back using a mix of native and non-native edibles. We went from one fruit tree to nine. I would highly recommend them for your landscaping project.
Kate KellyKate Kelly
02:52 02 Apr 22
SymbiOp is an incredible employee-owned garden shop in SE Portland. Their staff are friendly and accommodating and their products are top notch. I also am so appreciative of their COVID 19 safety protocols still in place (mask requirements, so easy for us to do!) that protects the elderly, children, and immunocompromised members in the community. I plan to shop at SymbiOp for all my garden needs!
Emily FlahertyEmily Flaherty
03:08 12 Nov 21
I absolutely love this shop! I’m a bit of a novice with houseplants but the folks at SymbiOp were so welcoming and helpful and taught me everything I needed to know to keep my plants alive and thriving. I really prefer being able to buy my plants from local folks who can help me determine what will work well in my home and are willing to take the time to explain it. I’ll definitely be back again!
Oliver SholderOliver Sholder
20:53 22 Apr 21
UPDATE: I was refunded my fees since they are booked out so far to try to do the work. JT, the owner called me and worked to try and make things right. They are a newer business so their are some process things that are still being worked out. Megan and JT are both nice people and I wish them the best of luck with their business as it grows.OLD: Megan from Symbiop showed up at the wrong time for the first consult, then showed up late for the meeting when we were planting together. I've was trying to schedule my next meeting and they had not responded to multiple calls and voicemails.They charge a premium for their services which I'm okay paying but it's been super hard. When I call, there is no professional answering service, just a "google voice" number which as I mentioned, hasn't gotten back to me in well over a week.
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Portfolio

Recent Residential and Commercial Projects

Pre-2020 Showcase #5: Edible Cul-de-sac Islands with an Herb Spiral

This project was for a newly-wed couple with a baby on the way. They were tired of the cookie cutter landscape that are often in new housing developments. Nestled in a quiet cul-de-sac, the landscape features a unique herb spiral bursting out the seams with perennial vegetables, berries, and beneficial plants and habitat for insects,…

Read More

Pre-2020 Showcase #3: Three Food Forests for three Restaurants

When their garden could no longer keep up with the demand for three restaurants, the owners of reached out to see what could be done in making the grow show more productive, unique and requiring less overall labour. We took the approach of showcasing many incredible local farmers and letting them handle annual production, perennializing…

Read More

*Ladybug on Common Yarrow Photo By Hélène Rival 

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