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10 Garden Ideas to Steal from Sea Ranch in Northern California

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10 Garden Ideas to Steal from Sea Ranch in Northern California

July 19, 2016

In the 1960s landscape architect Lawrence Halprin wrote an ode to the northern California coastline with his master plan for a new community called Sea Ranch.

Halprin dreamed of low-slung houses that would blend into the landscape rather than dominate it. He imagined Sea Ranch as a utopia: with hedges instead of fences, shared meadows instead of lawns, and gardens of no-mow grasses and native plants. Fifty years later, the result is a place where you can breathe—and so can the land. Here are 10 ideas to steal from Sea Ranch:

Photography by Meredith Swinehart except where noted.

Silvers and Grays

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Above: Photograph courtesy of Realtor. Allowed to weather naturally, a wood-sided facade at Sea Ranch blends into the landscape instead of fighting it. The house is for sale for $815,000.  For more of this house, see Realtor.

Houses are clad in redwood or cedar siding or shingles, encouraged to weather to a soft silver-gray that cedes center stage to greenery and scenery.

Subtle Storage

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Above: Simple lean-to shelters and open-air sheds conceal trash bins, woodpiles, and garden tools. Built of  redwood or cedar to match facades, they blend into the landscape instead of calling attention to themselves.

Friendly Fences

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Above: Photograph by Michelle Slatalla. Fences to define property lines are strongly discouraged at Sea Ranch (hedgerows are preferred). Fences built alongside public walking trails and paths have pickets spaced a few inches apart to allow light and air to circulate.

Permeable Driveways

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Above: Photograph courtesy of Realtor. Driveways paid with gravel or decomposed granite provide good drainage, have a soft appearance, and ease the transition between garden and wilderness. For more, see Hardscaping 101: Decomposed Granite.

Common Ground

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Above: Photograph by Michelle Slatalla.

Rather than dividing lots visually with mown lawns or perimeter plantings, Sea Ranch properties blend into each other to create unobstructed views and a sense of spaciousness.

Peg Rails

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Above: Simple but brilliant; an unobtrusive cedar or redwood peg rail for beach towels, dog leashes, and sun hats will disappear visually when not in use.

Outdoor Rooms

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Above: Photograph courtesy of Realtor. Interior courtyards block wind from harming plantings and create serene, sheltered outdoor rooms for dining or lounging.

Deer Friendly

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Above: Native plantings are naturally deer-resistant; no need to dread the impact of local wildlife.


Perennials in Planters


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Above: Perennials grasses are drought resistant and look just as good in planters as in the ground.

Black Accents

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Above: Photograph courtesy of Remodelista Architect/Designer Directory member Nick Noyes Architecture. Architectural elements such as window sashes are dark (instead of a contrasting color such as white) to create a backdrop for the landscape.

Minimal roof overhangs simplify the facade and connect a roof to the rest of the structure to help it recede into the background.

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Above: Photograph by Michelle Slatalla. Looking for a house in Sea Ranch? See what’s on the market at Realtor.

N.B.: For more sustainable design, see 10 Easy Pieces: Rain Barrels and 11 Ideas to Steal from Drought-Resistant Gardens.

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