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7 Landscaping Ideas to Borrow From Northern California’s Wine Country

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7 Landscaping Ideas to Borrow From Northern California’s Wine Country

July 27, 2021

California’s wine country is nothing less than spectacular, defined by its casual lifestyle, picturesque scenery, and award-winning wine. Drive through the rolling hills, and it’s impossible not to be mesmerized by its landscape of tidy vineyards, idyllic barns, rustic ranches, as well as more modern homes. When you look closely at this region, you realize there’s an artful arrangement that exists between architecture and landscape, between people and plants, between old and new. For inspiration on how to borrow some of these wine country elements for our own gardens, I recently visually dove into an inspiring new book, At Home in the Wine Country, by Heather Sandy Hebert and Chase Reynolds Ewald, which showcases projects from a handful of Northern California’s talented architects and designers. (The book is in stores September 7, but we’re giving you a sneak preview below.)

Here’s what I came away with: seven ideas to borrow from the wine country:

Photography from At Home in the Wine Country.

1. Blend the indoors with the outdoors.

The line between indoors and out is beautifully blurred in this Carmel Valley home designed by architects Joshua Aidlin and David Darling. Photograph by Matthew Millman, from At Home in the Wine Country.
Above: The line between indoors and out is beautifully blurred in this Carmel Valley home designed by architects Joshua Aidlin and David Darling. Photograph by Matthew Millman, from At Home in the Wine Country.

One element that routinely shows up in wine country living is the desire to seamlessly mesh outdoor enjoyment with indoor living, to blend scenery with lifestyle. There are countless ways to achieve this continuum: design concrete floors and patios that generously flow from outside to in; elevate porches to take in the views; or install large glass doors that slide secretly and neatly into walls. And when designing your landscape, remember to incorporate shared spaces like vegetable gardens, courtyards, terraces and patios that can become extensions of your home, while also making sure your outside destinations offer shelter from the blazing summer sun and prevailing winds.

2. Frame the views.

The views are artfully displayed in this Sonoma home by architect George Bevan. Photograph by Douglas Friedman, from At Home in Wine Country.
Above: The views are artfully displayed in this Sonoma home by architect George Bevan. Photograph by Douglas Friedman, from At Home in Wine Country.

You might not have a vineyard on your property, but maybe your neighbor does. Consider borrowing their vineyard for the perfect distanced view. If you don’t live in the wine country and there are no grape vines to be had, then make sure your vista takes advantage of a far away grove of trees or a majestic tree nearby. And to intensify a garden view and create a more intimate relationship with the land, design windows to frame a far off field, the setting sun, or the kaleidoscope of seasonal leaves.

3. Embrace drought-tolerant plantings.

Drought-resistant lavender lines a path of decomposed granite in this Healdsburg property. Photograph by Christopher Stark, from At Home in Wine Country.
Above: Drought-resistant lavender lines a path of decomposed granite in this Healdsburg property. Photograph by Christopher Stark, from At Home in Wine Country.

It is not required that you grow grapes to achieve a wine country aesthetic. What is required is an ethos of being sustainable and respectful of natural resources. That means designing gardens that are water-wise, and even pollinator-friendly. Fortunately, the wine country is appropriate for planting natives or plants from the Mediterranean as they share the same climate. This translates into seas of lavender, swaths of Salvias, and alleys of olive trees, all of which are plentiful in the region. Plus, easy-care ornamental grasses are popular in the wine country and lend a casual, relaxed feel.

4. Create a fire resilient and defensible space.

Stone is one of the main elements used in this Napa Valley landscape designed by Jack Chandler. Photograph by Adam Rouse, from At Home in Wine Country.
Above: Stone is one of the main elements used in this Napa Valley landscape designed by Jack Chandler. Photograph by Adam Rouse, from At Home in Wine Country.

The wine country is unfortunately a vulnerable land, easily threatened by seasonal wildfires. And while you may not be at risk, it is still a wise choice to increase your home’s defensible space and make your property more fire-resistant. One strategy is to use attractive and functional gravel or decomposed granite as mulch near homes and structures, especially any made of wood.  Another is to allow decent space between a home and heavy plantings.

5. Think of the four seasons.

Architects Pfau Long and landscape architects Lutsko Associates consciously designed this Napa Valley property with appreciation of the changing seasons in mind. Photograph by Art Gray, from At Home in Wine Country.
Above: Architects Pfau Long and landscape architects Lutsko Associates consciously designed this Napa Valley property with appreciation of the changing seasons in mind. Photograph by Art Gray, from At Home in Wine Country.

In this region, the notion of time is directly linked to the passing seasons and harvest time. Consider designing a garden to celebrate the cycle of life with colorful plantings that come into bloom at different times. Create outdoor spaces that bathe in the changing sun patterns; plan for leaves that vary in hues and highlights; and maximize views to honor the explosion of seasonal yellows, reds, orange and purples.

6. Let the existing landscape lead the design.

A substantial rock formation posed a challenge for this project, but it ultimately became a defining feature. Photograph by Cesar Rubio, from At Home in Wine Country.
Above: A substantial rock formation posed a challenge for this project, but it ultimately became a defining feature. Photograph by Cesar Rubio, from At Home in Wine Country.

The wine country connects deeply to the surrounding landscape so as to create an authentic, integrated and respectful space with minimal impact on the environment. Observe what is already there, what trees thrive nearby; learn what native flowers bloom effortlessly in your area, and blend it together so the garden feels of a piece with the surrounding landscape, not plopped down. Try using native stone for building smaller walls or add native grasses to create wilder looking meadows and to provide a soothing transition from more planned plantings to more naturalistic collections.

7. Create a journey through the property.

Landscape designers Roche + Roche designed a granite path that snakes it way through the property to this firepit area set off by a Cor-ten steel retaining wall. Photograph by Marion Brennan, from At Home in Wine Country. (N.B.: Note that parts of Northern California are increasingly under wildfire watch, and residential burn bans in certain areas are often imposed throughout the year when the risk is high. Also, be sure to check with your municipality for specific fire pit ordinances before you consider this feature on your property.)
Above: Landscape designers Roche + Roche designed a granite path that snakes it way through the property to this firepit area set off by a Cor-ten steel retaining wall. Photograph by Marion Brennan, from At Home in Wine Country. (N.B.: Note that parts of Northern California are increasingly under wildfire watch, and residential burn bans in certain areas are often imposed throughout the year when the risk is high. Also, be sure to check with your municipality for specific fire pit ordinances before you consider this feature on your property.)

Landscape architects often refer to ‘moments in the landscape’ in which a journey is created through the site—whether it’s a sprawling, billowy field of ornamental grasses that slows the pace or a narrow path through rugged rock outcroppings that speeds things up. Yes, the destination—a patio, fire pit, pool, etc.—is important, but so is the journey there.

Above: At Home in the Wine Country will be in bookstores starting September 7.

For more gardens in the area, see:

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