It’s Easier Than It Looks – Designing the Sunset Smart Cottage Garden

sunset plant collection cottage garden landscape walkway
By Janet Sluis, Curator of Sunset Western Garden Collection

Sunset was bringing the next frontier of home design to life in its new smart home. After taking over the two-bedroom bridal cottage at Cornerstone Sonoma and transforming it into a modern, connected home with a Wi-Fi connected interior, the cottage landscape needed an update, too. 

The mission: Design a narrow side garden in the full baking Sonoma sun, with a full shade front garden. Like any good adventure, there was an impossible deadline (one week) and unexpected landmines, or in our case sewer lines, irrigation control boxes, drainage pipes, and a parking lot.

Since this was a “Smart Cottage”, we wanted to stick to the “Smart” ethos outside as well. In the end result, all rain water is collected for reuse, the irrigation system is in-line drip with a weather controller, and Instead of thirsty annual flowers and wispy grasses, the garden features low-water, self-sufficient shrubs and perennials from the Sunset Western Garden Collection. Selected for their disease and pest resistance, these Sunset Plants require moderate to low water use and require little maintenance. With these easy-care plants, all in colors and textures that complement each other, creating this beautiful garden design is easier than it looks.

Sonoma garden walkway

We did first enlist the help of local landscape designer, Susan Morrison. She arrived with her trusty can of landscape marking paint, and deftly drew a meandering pathway. After bringing in compost (3-4”) to help our new plants get established, and to create height for the planting beds, we then started grouping plants by size and color using these design tips.

  • Pick focal points – in this case, 3 purple leafed Crape Myrtles (Lagerstroemia Delta Fuchsia™), which also gave much-needed height.
  • Use smaller scale shrubs for the bones of your landscape – this is the key to a lower maintenance border.
  • Limit the color scheme – we stuck to blues, purples, white and grey, with yellow accents (Ligustrum 'Sunshine'). Green is a color! Buxus Baby Gem™ helps unify stronger colors, and provides a lush green.
  • Repeat groupings of plants down the path to draw your eye down and making the space feel larger.
  • Add movement – using grass like plants (Lomandra Platinum Beauty™ and Carex 'Everillo') that sway with the breeze. Pollinator attracting varieties bring in hummingbirds (Salvia Nectar Blue™, Love & Wishes™) and butterflies (Buddleia Ultra Violet™).
  • Soften the pathway with low growing creeping plants (Rosemary Chef’s Choice®).

Four months later, these photos were taken. We did come through and cut off the old flowers, but these varieties will keep blooming even if you do not have the time. In late February, all the perennials got cut back hard, and the weedy Santa Barbara Daisy (BIG mistake) was yanked. Other than that, the shrubs provide year-round structure and color, and require very little maintenance. With Sunset Plants, you can do it – It’s easier than it looks!

View the Garden Plan

sunset garden plan

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