Tips for making your harvest grow in style, straight from the Sunset Test Garden
Written byJohanna SilverSeptember 22, 2016
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1918 marked Sunset’s first mention of growing a backyard veggie garden (organically in 1971). We’ve come a long way since, discovering that our backyard patches can be as beautiful as any ornamental planting, and we've put that knowledge in practice with Homestead Design Collective at our Test Gardens at Cornerstone Sonoma. Such gorgeous productive gardens are Homestead’s bread and butter. They’ve planted eight raised beds, several in-ground plantings, and a walkway of arbors, allowing for plenty of space to keep trying the latest and greatest (and tastiest) for our backyard harvests.
A warm welcome
We love the giant hooplike Terra trellises created by L.A.-based metal artist Jennifer Asher (terratrellis.com). She made 13 of them for us; at 7 feet tall and a bit wider, they’re easy to stroll through. With cherry tomatoes growing up the sides and flowering basils at the base, four create a passageway to our new greenhouse, built by Jeff Sagner of NW Green Panels, an Oregon-based designer of environmentally friendly greenhouses.
A Toki Bubble trellis (terratrellis.com) works as a tomato cage, surrounded by eggplant, savory, and purple basil.
A lush herb border surrounds the raised beds. Here, the limey leaves of pineapple sage intermingle with licorice-tasting anise hyssop in full bloom.
Soften it up
A soft meadow planting surrounds the greenhouse. Purple spikes of Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) rub shoulders with white coneflower (Echinacea), grassy blades of Muhlenbergia reverchonii, and a volunteer Queen Anne’s lace.
A cherry on top
Cherry tomatoes grow up and over the Gracie Modern Arbors, fabricated in Los Angeles by Terra Trellis. Homestead Design Collective chose one type of cherry tomato per each trellis. For our inaugural season, pictured here, we grew ‘Black Cherry’, ‘Isis Candy', ‘Pink Bumble Bee’, and ‘Snow White’.
A mix of three types of flowering basils grows at the base of each trellis. ‘African Blue’, ‘Magic Mountain’, and ‘Wild Magic’, are all grown specifically for their flowers, which, unlike traditional types, aren’t a sign of being at the end of their season. The basils bloom all season and die come frost. They’re still edible (though more astringent than traditional Italian types) and ridiculously loved by the bees. All varieties of basil available from Morningsun Herb Farm--they'll deliver right to your doorstep.
‘Isis Candy’, a cherry tomato with yellow and red blushed fruit, dangles its fruit between the supports of its trellis, making for convenient harvest. Growing tomatoes up a trellis is a great alternative to cages. Just be sure to keep tucking branches in and tying them to supports with landscape tape as needed.
Nice and orderly
We opted for 2-foot-tall raised beds to keep crops contained neatly. That height allows for optimal room for root growth, plus it means less bending down for us when we need to reach inside for weeding or harvest.
To create unity, Homestead Design Collective carried the Gracie Modern Arborfrom The Farm to The Cocktail Garden. The arbor in the distance is covered with hops, while those in The Farm grow tomatoes. At the base of all arbors, both in The Cocktail Garden and in The Farm, are clumps of flowering basils--‘African Blue’, ‘Magic Mountain’, and ‘Wild Magic’.
Herbs make fantastic border plants. Seen here: white-flowering lavender ‘Hidcote’, orange-flowered Agastache ‘Sunset’, intensely purple-flowered A. ‘Blue Boa’, lighter purple-flowered A. ‘Blue Fortune’, the green and yellow variegated leaves of ‘Variegated Berggarten’ sage, the chartreuse leaves of pineapple sage, and the green leaves of Thymbra spicata, spilling from the bed onto the path. All herbs available from Morningsun Herb Farm--they'll deliver right to your door.
Spilling on purpose
The simplest way to soften a straight edge: Plant a spilling herb. Along the sides of each of our raised beds, Homestead Design Collective planted herbs that do just that. Seen here: French thyme—pungent, edible, and beautiful.
A little bit wild
Cherry tomatoes reach for the sky beyond their arbors, while marigolds and amaranth (planted in a bed themed for botanical dye projects) reach their full summer glory.
Herb in privet line
A stiff line of privet hedging walls off The Farm. Homestead carved out a small planting pocket at the base--just enough room to tuck herbs, softening the sharp line between hedging and path, while offering even more opportunity to harvest from the garden.
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 Collectivefor 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.