This Low-Water Garden in Sonoma Is Right on Trend for 2023
You can stay in this farmhouse bungalow and experience the ultimate in low-maintenance outdoor living firsthand.
To declare that low-water gardening is a trend is an understatement. Despite the recent influx of atmospheric rivers, temperatures in the West are soaring year after year, and many of us understand that we must rethink our landscaping to prepare for more drought.
This is why, when a couple that works in the tech industry asked Stefani Bittner, of San Francisco’s Homestead Design Collective, to design the garden for their guest house and Airbnb in Sonoma, California, she knew it had to conserve resources.
“We live in a drought state,” Bittner says, “so this garden was designed to be low-water, low maintenance, yet still provide some harvest for the home.”
Her philosophy, she says, is that gardens take resources in terms of water and time, so they should give back, whether it’s vegetables, herbs, or cut flowers. At “Hygge Haus,” as it’s called on Airbnb, there are fragrant rosemary, lavender, citrus, and figs for the owners and their guests to cut, eat, or simply inhale.
Meanwhile, Bittner is always trying to get her clients to take a breath of fresh air—many of them come from the tech industry, after all. “I’m always saying, ‘Let’s get away from your computer and get outside!’” she says with a laugh. “It’s all I talk about.”
Of course, thanks to the pandemic, more people are still working from home. As a result, a garden nowadays can function as an outdoor office, a retreat, a way to socialize, and a place for recreation. For Hygge Haus, Bittner made sure there were daytime activities—like bocce and cornhole—and nighttime activities like drinking wine around the Corten steel fire pit. (The garden is in wine country, after all.)
The drought-tolerant plants were carefully selected so there would be something to look at year-round, including pink muhly grass, which features showstopping flowers in the fall, Russian sage, which boasts purple flowers in the spring, and germander sage, which has lavender blooms that attract hummingbirds in the summer. “Many of these grasses look beautiful when there’s wind blowing through them,” Bittner says, adding that the silver, green, and purple tones are the perfect color combination for a Mediterranean garden.
Finally, Bittner points out that the meandering paths through the space are key to the design. “It’s kind of funny,” she says. “When people create garden rooms, they think it will make their garden seem smaller, but it makes them seem larger.” First she identified where she wanted a great view of the night sky—that was the firepit, then she wanted the bocce court to be a part of the cottage. Says Bittner, “Once we started arranging and placing planting islands, we created a romantic stroll you can take through the garden anytime.”