Like many city dwellers with second homes, Roderick Wyllie and James Lord decamped for theirs, in Napa Valley, when the first “shelter in place” orders hit the Bay Area. The two are partners in life and at Surfacedesign, an award-winning multidisciplinary landscape architecture firm in San Francisco, and they figured it would be easier to social-distance away from the city. They assumed it would be a short stay—and then back to their regularly scheduled comfy urban life.
Four months later, they’re still in Napa, in their “funny little house that used to be a hunting shack,” says Roderick. They’ve found that they’re enjoying their new routines in the country more than they had anticipated and, like so many stories involving a breath of fresh air, their perspective has changed. “I do want to go back to the studio in San Francisco, but maybe not five days a week. We’re in our early fifties. We’ve never lived outside of cities consistently like this. It’s interesting to have a little break.”
Not to mention, rural living has its perks. For one, “we have friends who come up now, because we can be outside mostly, and it feels safe,” says Roderick. For another, he and James, self-described landscape architects who actually like plants, have been able to reconnect with the land. The two spent spring planting all sorts of annuals, transforming their patio and pool area into an artfully wild and colorful landscape. (The couple has a small garden in their city home, but it’s a “study in silver foliage and succulents” and very different from their Napa garden.)
While most gardens can take years to mature, theirs, which relies heavily on tall, stalky annuals like hollyhocks and poppies, took just a few months to fill in and casually spread and spill. “It’s a moment that’s going to pass,” acknowledges Roderick. ‘It’s a gift, really. You have to pay attention and appreciate it.”
It is our good fortune that photographer Marion Brenner recently visited their garden to appreciate and capture the moment for posterity.