A passion for plants

Contemporary Eugene yard contains 500 plant varieties

Classic structure, contemporary materials, and a palette of plants from all over the world fit ingeniously into the small Eugene garden pictured here. Three years ago, Rebecca Sams and Buell Steelman set out to redesign the landscape around their newly purchased home. As owners of landscape design firm Mosaic Gardens, the couple shares a strong passion for plants. "We wanted to show how different plants interact," says Steelman.

The couple's contemporary urban yard contains 500 plant varieties, from vegetables to ornamental trees, many with dramatically colored foliage. All this abundance is neatly connected by hard-packed gravel pathways that sweep through a series of garden rooms, each with its own focal point.

The entry garden leads visitors through beds of dwarf conifers, perennials, and shrubs. In the side yard, a gleaming 7-foot-diameter steel stock tank is filled with lotus and water lilies.

The next "room" is the vegetable garden. A perimeter fence of corrugated steel panels encloses herbs, artichokes, raspberries, strawberries, and tomatoes. From there, the path continues to a final room: an orchard of six fruit trees, with a dramatic 3½-foot spherical stacked-stone sculpture in the center."The focal points connect the garden," Steelman says. "You can always see another place to go."

INFO: Mosaic Gardens, Eugene, OR (541/434-6467)

Landscape lessons

Create outdoor rooms. Garden rooms can have different moods and functions; focal points along pathways draw attention to what is yet to be discovered. The Vietnamese ash-glazed container in the vegetable garden holds taro and water lilies.

Mix materials. "Use contrasting textures and forms in your hardscape, just as you would with plants," Rebecca Sams suggests. On the deck of rich brown Ipé, a metal table is paired with stainless-steel- and-teak chairs and a galvanized steel trough that holds soft-textured bamboos.

Contrast foliage textures and colors. For a planting bed at the base of the stairs, Buell Steelman and Sams combined the large white flowers and palmate leaves of Rodgersia pinnata with the finely textured blue-green foliage of a sculptural conifer, Picea pungens glauca 'Pendula', and the strappy upright leaves of Iris ensata 'Variegata'. At the right, the starry white blooms of Astrantia major 'Alba' rise above cream-and-white variegated foliage of Daphne 'Briggs Moonlight'.

Repeat geometric forms. Circular shapes echo the curve of the entry garden, the round stock tank, and the stacked-stone globe to give a sense of unity. Sams and Steelman's living-room window looks out to the raised lily pool in the side yard.

Make paths wide enough. Main paths should never be less than 3 ½ feet wide. Sams and Steelman like straight lines in pathways. The packed gravel is a permeable surface that lets rainwater drain so feet stay dry during wet winters.

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