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An invitation to climb higher

A gardener's grassy steppingstones lead to a green oasis.

Virginia Israelit's garden does something often nigh impossible: It makes grass look good.

Working with landscape designer Michael Schultz, she fashioned this promenade on the side of her Portland, Ore., house with stone steps framing each patch of turf. The stones are laid convex below and concave above – mirror images that give the green a decided shape.

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Framing the walkway is an inspired interplay of variegated Hakone grass and yellow-flowering iris, also with twin-toned leaves. (See, you can put variegated plants together.) But as spring progresses, the iris leaves revert to all green, giving the garden a sense of time as well as place.

The white wisteria, grown as a standard or tree form, and the weathered urn offset any notions of "perfect" balance or that matchy-matchy look.

And as your eye follows the rising steps, lifting to the rhododendrons and then the tall trees beyond, a little tune comes to mind. An electric guitar, an arpeggio. Could it be? Yes: "Stairway to Heaven."

• "Creative Combos" is an occasional garden feature focusing on highly effective plant combinations.


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