The Seattle garden is both romantic and practical, fun whether you are a grown-up or 3 years old. The ambience is woodsy and mossy, lit by sunlight filtering through the trees.

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THE PLAN WAS to tear down the little house on a steep lot in the Ravenna neighborhood. But 15 years and three garden renovations later, Jacqueline and Tom Ryan’s yellow house remains intact. “Since we still don’t have the perfect house, we work on the garden,” says Jacqueline.

Along with the challenges of a minuscule front garden and a back garden that slopes steeply away from the house, the couple chose to use mostly native plants. Why natives in a city garden designed for entertaining and outdoor living?

“I grew up in Mill Valley (Calif.) in the Redwoods,” explains Jacqueline. “It was so nurturing and inspiring. I was recreating home before I even realized I was trying to.”

Favorite spots

Jacqueline Ryan’s favorite sources for native plants:

Tadpole Haven Native Plants in Woodinville: 425-788-6100; tadpolehaven.com.

Pacific Natives and Ornamentals in Woodinville: 425-483-8108; pacificnatives.com.

Fourth Corner Nurseries in Bellingham: 360-734-0079; fourthcornernurseries.com.

Swansons Nursery in Seattle: 206-782-2543; swansonsnursery.com.

The garden’s nostalgic ambience is woodsy and mossy, lit by sunlight filtering through the trees.

But first, the couple had to root out the blackberries shrouding the hillside and jackhammer out a large concrete parking pad on the side of the house.

“Absolutely everything in the garden is new,” says Jacqueline. “We even had to pull a tree out from under the house’s foundation.”

They left fallen trees to delineate areas of the garden, moved around rocks they found on site, and built the garden shelter out of weathered wood from an old fence.

Jacqueline is trained in interior design, which might account for the garden’s numerous comforts, sheltering spaces and attention to navigation. Wide gravel steps and pathways lead through the garden, and there’s a destination structure for al fresco dining, reading and sleeping. A big play structure keeps the couple’s 3-year-old daughter busy. The garden is lit up for evening parties with strings of lights, clusters of lanterns and, best of all, heat lamps for chilly evenings and mornings.

Street-side, a little gravel terrace serves as the home’s foyer. It’s planted with blueberry bushes and four serviceberry trees for shade.

“I’m trying to get more natives out front,” says Jacqueline, who is adding Oregon grape, kinnikinnick and Pacific Coast iris.

Because the property is only 40 feet wide and 40 feet deep, Jacqueline planted trees that are taller than they are wide, such as vine maple, serviceberry and even a madrona. Jacqueline considers her favorite deer and sword ferns to be the architecture of the garden. Her formula is a mix of one-third evergreen plants and two-thirds deciduous for transparency and to let in winter light.

The mostly green foliage and white-blooming plants create a quiet, hushed feeling in the garden.

“As much as I love color, with a small house and a 3-year old, we need a calm outdoor space,” says Jacqueline. False Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa) edges the steps, along with wild ginger (Asarum caudatum) oxalis and trillium. Jacqueline isn’t a purist about using all natives, or about color. “I think the plants are about 99 percent native. We’re working on it,” she says. And she’s broken her own all-white rule by mixing in some pink bleeding heart just because it’s so pretty.

“All I’ve ever really wanted was somewhere to read outdoors,” says Jacqueline, of the garden room complete with bookshelves, bed and reading lamps.

She stamped words representing the principles and elements of design onto the structure’s ceiling. You can lie on the bed and look up to read “scale, volume, proportion, texture . . . ” all the elements that contribute to the success of the garden.

While most gardens tend toward either romanticism or practicality, the Ryan garden, with its well-lit paths, native plants, lanterns and outdoor bookshelves, is a stylish mixture of both.