Designed by landscape architectural icon Thomas Church, the garden was about to turn 50 when we were called in, and it was not aging terribly well. The plantings in the regional border were supposed to follow a progression in feeling from Sonoran type desert to Pacific Northwest forest, but instead had become a generic mush of nandina, camellia, azalea, flowering cherry, holly, etc. There was little of that regional identity left, except for the redwoods in the Monterey section, which are now immense, the cactus garden at the beginning of the regional walk, and the rhododendrons at the final terminus.

There were multiple political challenges to be met as well. Church is considered a modern master, and yet all gardens change with the times, and there were no original planting plans to replicate. The Sunset administrators were also interested in cutting back on the intensive cultivation of annual flowering plants that had become, in effect, the current theme of the garden walk. As an environmentally tuned design firm, we felt that the garden was weighted far too heavily toward that artificial and chemically dependent style of gardening that is, we hope, on its way out the door.

We set about to emphasize the generous sweeping curves that are so characteristic of Church’s modernist work by using large swathes of relatively simple plants. (This might quite fairly be called a synthesis of the bold romantic gardens of the design firm of Oehme van Sweden, combined with the hardscape of Thomas Church.) Church used plants in a similar manner in much of his work, although often the plantings were of such now overused staples as Juniper and agapanthus, which we would be hesitant to recreate.

This garden can be visited at Sunset Headquarters at 80 Willow Road in Menlo Park any weekday from 9 to 5.

Planting design: Chris Jacobson
Landscape architect: Beverly Sarjeant
Landscape installation: Gachina Landscape
Sunset liaison: Lorinda Reichert
Plant donations: Monrovia Nursery