A good outdoor space is like a living room where there’s always a breeze and you can pick fruit right off the trees. Steal these tips from our Test Garden for your very own oasis
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The Gathering Space
As the first magazine to publish photos of homes with sliding doors (1952), decks (1958), and hot tubs (1979), Sunset wrote the book on outdoor living. At our Test Garden, the outdoor room we call the Gathering Space provides an updated take on an outdoor living room, inspiring us to move the party outside. Christian Cobbs, Homestead Design Collective's lead designer took the reins on this room, using it as an opportunity to showcase the low-water, easy-care plants of the Sunset Western Garden Collection. He supplemented with playful additions, like succulents and other drought-tolerant accents. Cobbs describes this garden as “foliage-based,” meaning that the impact comes from colorful leaves rather than fussy flowers. The result is year-round structure and form, with next to no maintenance.
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Decomposed granite provides a stable surface for this sophisticated picnic table from Artefact Design & Salvage. Offering some shade are three fruiting olives--one of several ornamental edibles that designer Stefani Bittner snuck into the design.
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A celebration of texture and color, a burgundy ‘Design-A-Line’ Cordyline, silvery, broad-leafed honey bush (Melianthus major), and fountains of Platinum BeautyLomandra pop against a dark green privet.
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Agave ovatifolia poke up amid a sea of ‘Chef’s Choice’ rosemary. Lead designer Cobbs chose this variety because it tops out at 18 inches and has a nice mounding effect. It’s also incredibly high in oil content, making it an excellent culinary variety as well.
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Succulent from above
Another view of the ‘Chef’s Choice’ rosemary and artichoke agave combo that we love. We like gazing at the rosette-shaped succulent amidst all those reaching stems. It’s hard to believe that this duo is low-water and low-maintenance.
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For an outdoor tabletop decoration that will outlast any party, opt for a low bowl, packed with succulents of various colors. Use a top dressing of decorative stone to finish the look.
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Summer sunshine sets this garden aglow. A fruiting olive offers height. The bright red blooms of ‘Killer Cranberry’ salvia are echoed in the strappy burgundy leaves of two ‘Design-A-Line’ cordyline. At the front corner of the bed, small rosettes of purple Echeveria 'Perle Von Nurnberg’ offer interest at ground level.
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A clump of ultra-fragrant, variegated ‘Meerlo’ lavender pops next to the tall purple blooms of ‘Love and Wishes’ salvia. This duo takes full sun to part shade and is low-water once established.
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Silvery-blue Agave franzosinii provide drama amidst a sea of low-water, unfussy perennials, including variegated ‘Meerlo’ lavender, red-flowered ‘Killer Cranberry’ salvia, red-tipped 'Obsession' nandina, and lush green ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia--a rare plant that likes conditions both shady and dry.
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Though the Gathering Space is not an edible garden, Homestead Design Collective snuck a few productive plants into the mix--three, to be exact: fruiting olive trees, lavender, and rosemary, all of which provide both beauty and bounty.
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Meet the designers
In a tradition of choosing great talent to partner with (Thomas Church--father of the modern style of California landscape architecture--designed our previous gardens), we turned to the East Bay-based Homestead Design Collective for help executing our vision. Co-owned by a dyed-in-the-wool sustainable gardener, Stefani Bittner, and Alethea Harampolis, a florist known for her wild, garden-inspired designs, Homestead captures the zeitgeist of today’s gardener: an insistence on utility with an uncompromising commitment to beauty. And true to both their values and ours, Sunset’s Test Gardens are maintained without pesticides and fed with organic fertilizer, fish emulsion, and compost.