Shaded by mature Douglas fir and Oregon myrtle trees, the lawn fronting Sarah and Lance Robertson's home in Eugene, Oregon, grew so sparsely that it seemed to be "crying to be put out of its misery," Sarah recalls. So in the fall of 1996, with planting suggestions from landscape architect Brad Stangeland, they began a major renovation. They replaced the lawn with lush shade plantings and constructed a series of cobbled paths, transforming their front yard into an inviting woodland retreat.
In raised beds between the curving paths, rhododendrons provide structure and seasonal color. In contrast to the rhodies' darker evergreen foliage, plants with creamy white-edged leaves stand out like bright threads, knitting the composition together. Among the variegated plants are Hebe elliptica 'Variegata' with mauve flowers, hostas, and Solomon's seal (Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum'). The chartreuse flowers of lady's-mantle (Alchemilla mollis) and soft blue tufts of 'Elijah Blue' fescue contribute their color and texture.
At the base of the Douglas fir, the couple installed a teak bench. Sitting there in the midst of a tranquil shade garden sure beats mowing the grass, Sarah says. Maintenance is minimal. The plants are fed with organic fertilizer in March and June, and a thick layer of mulch keeps weeds at bay.