Sunset Garden Fades in the West

We visited the Sunset garden for the first time last week, just before it closed for good. The garden is part of the Sunset magazine, which advertises itself as “the premier resource for achieving the ultimate Western lifestyle”. It was a vibrant brand in the ’60s and ’70s, when the West was growing by leaps and bounds. But the magazine was sold to Time-Warner, which recently sold the garden and buildings to a developer. Located in Menlo Park, California, the 7-acre site is valuable, being less than two miles from the Stanford University and Facebook campuses.

Our walk through the garden brought back memories of yards we had designed and installed decades ago: lawns, Japanese maple trees, camellias, azaleas, rhododendrons, and redwood trees. Although I spent hours of reading Sunset magazine and garden books to plan our gardens, our yards never approached the beautiful photos that were probably taken in the Pacific Northwest.

I looked forward to the section of the garden with plants for the San Francisco Bay Area, but I was disappointed to find lawn and a long row of white-flowered, Alaska azaleas. The tree in the lawn is a coast live oak.

central California section
central California section

I realize now that California’s Mediterranean climate is so different from the moist climates of the Pacific Northwest, Japan, and China. Lawns and moisture-loving plants take more water than California has, especially with our drought.

Our current yard is dominated by several large coast live oak trees, a California native that is admirably adapted to California’s dry summer but will eventually die of oak root fungus if watered throughout our summers. Having experiences the ravages of oak root fungus, we planted our current yard with California native plants that survive our dry summers and are in harmony with our oak trees.

I didn’t use Sunset magazine or books for this yard. Sunset magazine never embraced California native plants, and so it wasn’t as relevant as when I was younger. The Sunset garden didn’t keep up with the times, and perhaps the same is true for the magazine.


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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

2 thoughts on “Sunset Garden Fades in the West”

  1. I subscribed to Sunset magazine for decades and kept them organized in folders. I bought the indices so that I could find articles in my collection. I would discard issues after 5 years. Eventually Sunset stopped publishing the indices, so it became impossible to find anything. At that point, the magazine changed from being a resource to just taking up space. I still have their garden book (and several others).


  2. Yes, I agree. The index is the core part of a search engine. Now we do online searches, and the content is much richer than a single magazine. We have a Sunset garden book and over a dozen Sunset DIY books on our bookshelves. I haven’t cracked open a Sunset book in years, so it looks like I need to make some space. I use the web and especially YouTube for DIY. We subscribed to Sunset magazine again a few years ago, but we didn’t find much there, so we let the subscription lapse. This issue is broader than Sunset magazine, enveloping print media in general.


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