The “homestead” garden is hardworking and beautiful.

Pine House Raised Beds
Thomas J. Story

When one thinks about a production garden designed to yield copious amounts of vegetables and flowers, it’s not often one with perfectly manicured rows overflowing with color and paired with thoughtfully organized spaces for gathering. Practicality and function are usually the focus, not a dedication to stunning surroundings. This is where the team behind Oakland-based Pine House Edible Gardens stands out with their impeccable layout and design philosophies, showcasing the ability to implement important functional garden systems with incredible style.

This “homestead” garden located in Walnut Creek, California, changes the way we think about what a hardworking garden can look like. Designed as a modern take on a formal potager-style garden, it’s intentionally laid out to maximize the space for access and harvest. It has some of the elements of the traditional potager garden, in which geometric hardscape shapes and evergreen plantings help define the space through the seasons, but this modern interpretation takes an unexpected turn with an impressive plant list boasting over 100 varieties including a seasonal rotation of annual veggies and cutting flowers that create a dazzling display of color and texture. Not to mention hives for bees, water-capturing systems, and a goal of self-sufficiency through year-round harvesting. It’s very generous. You could call it a giving garden.

Noreen and Jonathan Schimmel
Owners Noreen and Jonathan Schimmel harvest from a raised bed filled with perennial flowers and foliage, a perfect mix for arranging bouquets and attracting pollinators to neighboring crops.

Thomas J. Story

Owners Noreen and Jonathan Schimmel both grew up in Michigan, where backyard gardening was a common thread through both of their childhood experiences. With grandparents who grew up on farms, Jonathan had a particular connection to a memory of his maternal grandfather, who was an exceptional grower and known for his rhubarb used in summer pies. So when the couple found their Walnut Creek home, they knew the large empty side yard would be their chance to build a beautiful garden of their own while learning how to tend to nature as their families once had. With this piece of property they found meaning and opportunity to create a legacy garden.

Pine House Team
The Pine House Edible Gardens team, from left to right: Leslie Bennett, Lonna Lopez, and Jessica Comerford.

Thomas J. Story

The goal for the garden was to include a beautiful production area for growing veggies, fruit, and flowers while allowing for other spaces such as a potting bench, chicken coop, and an area for bees—elegantly intertwined with areas to sit and relax without any of the functional systems being noticeable at all. Where many of the edible plants and flowers were particular nostalgic requests from the owners, the Pine House team also included a variety of new plant discoveries, which not only served as an important design feature but also invited a host of new, very “Californian” recipes and rituals that would become part of the family’s new narrative. The result? A busy yet composed production garden that is a serene retreat for a family to grow and cultivate new memories together.

1. Strength in Structure

Raised Floral Beds
Overflowing greenery such as artichokes and snapdragons break up the hard structure of the raised beds when paired with other softer, more textural plantings.

Thomas J. Story

The Pine House team took cues from the family’s fun, mid-century modern style and applied that idea of clean lines and simple structure as the foundation for a more loose, colorful, and romantic-feeling garden. In turn, the layout teeters between being very linear and formal while overflowing with an abundance of flowers and edibles. To achieve this, organized structure was crucial, and retaining walls were used to stand out as a strong design feature. To balance the more modern layout and structure of the garden, there was an intentional fullness of plantings added to the mix to make it feel more old-timey and homey. The combination evokes a more nostalgic vibe creating a nice tension between the hardscape and the softer, more textural plantings.

Pine House Edible Gardens Container Plant
Geometric gray planters carry the home’s modern style throughout the garden while providing a focal point for seasonal swaps of color and texture.

Thomas J. Story

Additional definition was achieved with evergreen perennial edibles such as culinary bay, pineapple guava, and avocado. These were planted alongside other ornamentals around the perimeter to create a backdrop and “green room” effect for the overall space. A mid-layer gathering area was designed with classical “cloisters” in mind. The space was broken into four quadrants and each planted with a heritage fruit tree, roses, and blueberry bushes. This dialed-in organization of space and plant material allowed for an impressive and diverse number of plantings, proving that you can optimize any footprint or container for maximum production.

2. Painting a Plant Palette

Salvia Love and Wishes
Salvia ‘Love and Wishes’ flanked by Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’ on the right and Digiplexis ‘Berry Canary’ flowers in the background.

Thomas J. Story

A floriferous garden with warm and jewel-toned blooms was the starting point when the Schimmels were considering the overall color scheme of the space. The Pine House team wanted to create gravitas by using dark gray and black for the hardscape and containers, which made foliage pop. Because a productive garden such as this includes so many elements that change dramatically through the seasons, the Pine House team adhered to a tightly coordinated color palette to help organize the design. Repeating color or texture causes the eye to move more gracefully throughout the space. Repetition and use of color doesn’t always have to be florally focused. Here evergreen ornamentals such as dwarf cypress and Pittosporum alongside burgundy Loropetalum and heuchera create depth and texture with a cohesive flow.

3. Pops for Pollinators

Flower Collage with Penstemon, Icelandic poppy, roses, and Alstroemeria
Flowers from left: Penstemon ‘Blackbeard’, Icelandic poppy, Rose ‘Love Song’, and Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’.

Thomas J. Story

The Schimmel family asked for a wide variety of cutting flowers and had a long list of favorites including roses that reminded them of their family’s gardens. The Pine House team proposed a perennial flower and foliage mix perfect for cutting while also attracting pollinators to neighboring crops. While they focused on family favorites, they also added a range of complimentary blooming colors and shapes that would allow the family to effortlessly make beautiful arrangements throughout the year—an incredibly thoughtful detail that continues to weave the narrative of family memories mixed with new traditions.

Container Plant Detail
The Pine House team focused on family flower favorites such as roses, but also added a range of complementary blooming colors and shapes for effortless arrangements.

Thomas J. Story

Two designated rose beds, each with five varieties in them, plus an additional two raised beds for annual and smaller perennial cutting flowers are situated at the secondary entrance of the production garden space. The family has appreciated the diversity of the cut flower garden more than expected, with owner Jonathan sharing, “I have always loved roses and pruning them is such a wonderful meditative activity. However, with the mix, Noreen has become quite adept at building arrangements for the house every few days. When we have visitors, we always have a fresh bouquet to welcome them and decorate their room. What a luxury to have fresh flowers on demand.”

4. Bottomless Bounty

Garden Produce Basket

Thomas J. Story

The secret to an endless harvest is a combination of careful selection and timing. Understanding how the space changes throughout the day, let alone each season, is key. Pine House planned out garden beds that are productive year-round with calculated cool- and warm-season plantings that are refreshed in October and April, along with smaller successional plantings added in each month. Perennial edibles such as asparagus, artichokes, berries, and fruit trees are also incorporated throughout the garden. These contribute to ongoing production and define space while providing seasonal beauty.

Fava Beans on a Trellis
Jonathan secures fava beans to a trellis, which not only allows for more surface area to grow shallow-rooted crops such as lettuce, but also provides late afternoon shade for tender greens.

Thomas J. Story

Cleverly utilizing every square inch as an opportunity to produce food is just as important as the crops you choose to grow. Pine House isn’t afraid to put beds in shadier spots for cool-season crops like salad greens, and broccoli in successive plantings so that there is always an ongoing harvest. Additionally, they like to play with a mix of vegetable types, especially when it comes to tomatoes, which offer a diverse variety throughout the summer season. Even the ground around the raised beds is full of edibles. On the perimeter, an impressive collection of citrus, stone fruit, avocados, pomegranate, passion fruit, apples, figs, and quince is mixed with culinary herbs, such as sweet culinary bay, myrtle, and rosemary, creating a lush oasis that is bountiful year-round.

5. Tending to Traditions

Pink Snapdragons
Snapdragons provide a pop of color.

Thomas J. Story

When it comes to creating a garden filled with heirlooms and history, the Pine House team suggests weaving a meaningful family narrative into the design by focusing on a specific food memory and how that might link to a specific heritage or tradition. Even certain flowers can introduce nostalgia by creating a sensory garden through color and scent. Where there might not be a specific tangible element, they suggest focusing on a feeling you want to evoke within the space, even if it’s something as simple as the sense of abundance. By connecting that to the action of stepping into the garden to gather fresh herbs for dinner, or the practice of arranging beauty by cutting fresh flowers on the weekend, you will find yourself creating new traditions for yourself and family.

Jonathan Schimmel with a Cart

Thomas J. Story

Beyond the stylish structure and bountiful beauty, Pine House designs gardens in a way that makes people feel connected to the land they are living on by weaving in personal histories and offering the opportunity to create new stories. These are the best kinds of gardens, the ones that have as much heart as harvest. Gardens that give the gift of hope for the future.