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Sneak Peek: Sunset Magazine Demo Garden

Vertical Gardening at Sunset Magazine Demo Garden

Sunset magazine recently released the New Sunset Western Garden Guide. Western gardeners like to call it “the gardening bible”, and this 9th edition of the book is better than ever. The little line drawings of past editions have been replaced with thousands of color photos and, as always, the book is chock full of information on plants and how to grow them successfully in your zone. The Western Garden Guide is really a wonderful starting point to begin exploring all of the varied and interesting plants (especially ornamentals and natives) that grow in the West. I was especially pleased to see that they call out plants that are important for beneficials and pollinators with an icon. As part of the book’s launch, I was invited to Sunset’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California to tour the gardens with other garden bloggers and eat breakfast in the Sunset test kitchen. It was such a wonderful morning! The test kitchen looks out over an herb garden and outdoor kitchen and the vegetable test garden is like an amazing idea lab and dream backyard garden wrapped into one. I am happy to report that the garden is not too precious. It is clearly a real garden. They have a few weeds here and there and Johanna Silver, Sunset’s test garden coordinator, admitted they have problems with squirrels and birds eating seeds and seedlings—just like the rest of us!


Sunset Magazine Chicken Coop

The garden features an amazing coop tucked away into a back corner, and it is home to a few very happy and spoiled hens. The coop was made by a local California company, Wine Country Coops. The coop sits up off the ground and has a wire floor, which allows the chickens’ droppings to fall through onto a layer of bedding below. The coop is right by the compost pile, so I imagine it is pretty easy to keep things clean and tidy (something I cannot say about my own chicken’s lame coop). They also have a generous covered run.

Hens at Sunset Magazine Garden

Straw in Sunset Magazine Compost Pile

The test garden is about the size of a small city backyard, so there were quite a few containers scattered around and lots of trellises. My favorite was this bright orange, powder coated steel trellis. Johanna had just planted some peas at the base (and covered them up with a strip of row cover to protect them from critters).

Vertical Gardening at Sunset Magazine

Spring Vegetable Gardening at Sunset Magazine Demo Garden

The greenhouse is surrounded by garden beds, which helps integrate the structure into the rest of the space. During my visit the beds were filled with overwintered cool season crops.

Vegetable Garden at Sunset Magazine

Mature artichoke plants filled in the corners of the garden. Seeing them made me determined to grow artichokes in my own garden this summer! I love their silvery grey foliage and the architectural presence of the plants. The garden featured many other perennial edibles, including mounds of herbs and a potted lemon tree.

Perennial Vegetable at Sunset Magazine Demonstration Garden

Sunset also loves to grow kale. I spotted ‘Red Russian’ and a curly green variety as well. Even though it gets quite hot in Menlo Park in the summer, I’m told kale can grow year round there if it is given a bit of shade during the hottest part of the year.

Cool Season Vegetable Garden at Sunset Magazine

This pathway is composed of wooden odds and ends. I really love the pathway’s geometric design and that it made use of material that would normally be tossed aside. The Sunset garden is open to the public during their annual Celebration Weekend, which takes place this year on June 2nd and 3rd. I encourage you to go if you have the chance. You will surely walk away inspired! I know I did.

Pathway material



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13 Responses to “Sneak Peek: Sunset Magazine Demo Garden”

  1. 1
    Trish Says:

    Hi Willi,
    What a lovely place to visit and see how others do their gardens. I was there about 25 years ago and would love to visit again some day. Glad your trip was a success! Curious about their pathways and how they keep them neat and clean – as in soil and debris dropping in them. What do you use for your paths?
    Thanks for sharing your trip with us – loved the red roof on the chicken coop!

  2. 2
    Lindsey @ NW Backyard Veggies Says:

    I have loved my old copy of that book to death – dog eared, smeared in dirt and poop from the garden and always open to some page or another.

    I may have to treat myself to the new version. I love the fact that they identify beneficials with an icon – makes it easier for those of us without botany degrees to keep it all straight!
    Lindsey @ NW Backyard Veggies´s last [type] ..Nelson Farm Walk – AKA: Where’s The Beef?!?

  3. 3
    Lindsey Says:

    I am in love with this post! Thanks for sharing.
    How did you get so lucky to be invited to their test garden?

    Wishing I could quit my job and garden for a living…Sigh…

  4. 4
    Kalin Says:

    Gorgeous. I am in love with the bean trellis. That orange is incredible. The wood scrap walkway is wonderful as well.

  5. 5
    Anne Says:

    Thanks for the sneak peek Willi! I was recently given the new Sunset Garden guide book for my birthday and it is awesome. I’m growing artichoke in my garden—planted it last year and it’s already about 2 feet tall. You can totally grow it in Portland.

  6. 6
    Jay Says:

    I’m in love with the orange trellises.. particularly the arbor. Any idea if it’s sold retail?

  7. 7
    karen Says:

    Great post! And thrilled you got to see our trellises amongst all of the wonders growing in the Sunset Test Garden. Incredible what Johanna is doing there!

    p.s. Jay asked if we sell the arbor retail – yes on our website and at some garden retailers So. Calif. area (Potted in Atwater Village, Big Red Sun in Venice and Porch in Santa Barbara).

  8. 8
    Charlie Says:

    I really liked the path made of wooden scraps. That was a great idea. I am going to deploy that this spring.
    Charlie´s last [type] ..Search and Rescue

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