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.
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.