Pennisetum orientale and a Japanese maple border the stairs leading down to the river.
Five great ideas from this garden
1. Create an infinity-edge lawn. Naef supported the downhill side of his lawn with a 30-inch-tall stone retaining wall, but a poured concrete wall would serve as well. Make the top of the wall flat, barely lower than the lawn, and several inches thick to support the wheels on one side of your mower.
2. Start with healthy soil. To get the best possible lawn, Naef replaced the top foot of dirt with high-quality topsoil. After leveling and compacting it, he planted a blend of fescue and perennial rye, which is well adapted to the Northwest. To keep it perfectly manicured and healthy, he regularly cuts it to 1½ inches tall.
3. Form planting pockets. To define a stairway or path that descends a slope, bracket it with plants. Naef marked his steps with boulders, grasses, hydrangeas, and a maple.
4. Situate most plants on the sides of the lawn. Perennials, ornamental grasses, and shrubs screen out the street and soften the landscape without blocking the view.
5. Start your lawn from seed. "It's very fast," Naef says, "and fun to watch as the lawn fills in." Seed has another advantage: It doesn't raise the level of the grade as sod does. If the lawn develops thin spots as the grass comes up, you can reseed the areas in minutes.