Easy garden retreat

Unfussy plants fringe a garden hideway near Sonoma
Julie Chai

A backyard retreat is most soothing when it's simple. Even a single chair set among richly textured plants can make a wonderful place to relax and enjoy the summer garden.

This intimate area, at the hillside home of Susan Skinner and Bob Heisterberg in Glen Ellen, is just off the master bedroom. Facing east and surrounded by a native woodland of oaks and madrone, the space is bathed in soft light at breakfast time, yet sheltered from hot afternoon and evening sun by house walls.

"It's what we wake up to every morning," Skinner says. Moreover, it's inviting any time of day.

Planting beds are free-form, with no hard edges; they're filled with easy-care bloomers such as vibrant yellow Asteriscus maritimus 'Gold Coin', white Santa Barbara daisy ( Erigeron), and lavender. All plants tolerate drought.

Rosa banksiae covers the arbor behind with sunny yellow blooms, while substantial stone foundations give the arbor a feeling of permanence. Nun's Canyon Quarry gravel crunches underfoot. Together the various garden elements (plus a book and a cool drink) provide the ideal environment for personal restoration.

Design: Paul Harris, Imagine Sonoma, Sonoma (707/939-1300)