Design your garden for laid-back outdoor living inspired by Napa and Sonoma
Just an hour’s drive north of San Francisco, the suburbs turn into rolling hills lined with grapevines and the pace of life significantly slows down. Welcome to California’s wine country, where locals and visitors alike embrace a more casual lifestyle. Gardens are designed for outdoor living and farm-to-table eating with a laid-back Mediterranean countryside feel. Whether or not you live by a vineyard, embrace the California wine country lifestyle with design ideas for your yard.
Turn to traditional farmhouses, barns and California wineries for inspiration. Think about ways to use building materials like corrugated metal — commonly used on barn roofs — in creative ways, such as for fencing or as siding on an outbuilding. Also use materials in earthy colors, such as natural wood and tawny stone. For plants, choose easy-care Mediterranean herbs along with trees, shrubs and ornamental grasses that thrive in California’s climate.
To get a modern farmhouse look straight out of Sonoma, pair contemporary metal with old-fashioned wood. For paint, choose neutral colors such as sage green and warm gray, and use crisp white for detailing and trim. For walkways, use crunchy pea gravel, decomposed granite or warm-toned flagstone. Split-rail fences are common in the wine country, as are low walls made from Sonoma fieldstone boulders.
Wine Country 1: Mary Jo Bowling, original photo on Houzz
Indoor-outdoor living. The most defining characteristic of California wine country style is the connection between indoor and outdoor spaces. To get the look and encourage an indoor-outdoor lifestyle, design doors to be kept open or put a table outside so meals can be enjoyed under the sky. In this ranch home in Sonoma, a large covered breezeway functions as an outdoor living and dining room with spectacular views over the valley.
Gravel courtyards. Seen in the classical gardens of Italy and France, gravel courtyards look right at home in wine country-style gardens. Choose a gold-toned gravel or decomposed granite for a warmer, more Mediterranean look. Add an outdoor table, a potted citrus tree and an olive tree for shade, and you just as easily be in Siena as in Napa.
Shade structures. Pergolas make an attractive addition to any garden and add a welcome pool of shade over outdoor seating areas. Grapes have broad, bright green leaves that change to gold in fall, and the plants are remarkably fast-growing — they’ll easily cover a pergola in a single season.
Wine Country 2: ROCHE+ROCHE Landscape Architecture, original photo on Houzz
Kitchen gardens. Embrace the farm-to-table movement by setting aside space to grow veggies and herbs for use in the kitchen. These raised beds made of corrugated metal edged with wood, outside of a home in Vancouver, are in a contemporary farm style that would work well in a wine country garden. Plus, most edibles thrive in raised beds with good drainage and warmer soil.
Wine Country 3: Dig Your Garden Landscape Design, original photo on Houzz
Fire pits. Encourage guests to linger outside and enjoy a glass of wine or roast a marshmallow over an outdoor fire pit. In this Marin County, California, garden, the designer turned a wide metal vessel from India into a gas fire pit. A curved rock wall and a cluster of laid-back Adirondack chairs make for an inviting space, whether or not a fire is going.
Wine Country 4: Katharine Webster Inc., original photo on Houzz
Mediterranean and California natives. Water is a precious resource in most grape-growing regions. Use low-water Mediterranean plants and California natives for a classic wine country look and a drought-tolerant garden. Some options to choose from include olive trees (Olea europaea, USDA zones 8 to 11), French lavender (Lavandula stoechas, zones 5 to 9), ornamental and native grasses, carpet roses (Rosa cvs., zones 4 to 10) and Mediterranean herbs such as creeping thyme and rosemary.
Backyard vineyard. If you have the space, consider planting a few rows of vines. Grapes fall into three main categories: American (Vitis labrusca), European (V. vinifera) and muscadine (V. rotundifolia). Wines are made primarily from the European varieties (cabernet, chardonnay and the like), which grow best in a dry Mediterranean climate (zones 7 to 10). If your home is in a colder region, get the same look by planting American varieties of table grapes such as V. labrusca ‘Niagara’ (zones 4 to 8), which produce juicy, sweet fruits.
Wine Country 5: Bevan Associates, original photo on Houzz
Fruit trees. California wine country isn’t just about the grapes. The climate is also ideal for growing citrus, apples and stone fruit, such as apricots, peaches, plums and cherries. Reap the benefits of growing fruit in your own garden by planting apples, cherries or apricots as patio trees or focal points in the landscape.
Olive groves. Olive trees go hand in hand with wine country and Mediterranean gardens. Planted in containers, nonfruiting Little Ollie dwarf olive trees (Olea europaea ‘Montra’) create a majestic presence in the landscape at a smaller scale. If you’re planting new trees, select a nonfruiting variety such as ‘Swan Hill’ (Olea europaea ‘Swan Hill’, zones 8 to 11) to avoid an annual cleanup of oily fruit.
Cafe lights. Add ambience to a wine country-style courtyard or dining area by hanging a string of cafe lights. Invest in an industrial-quality version (like the ones used by restaurants), available from professional lighting stores. They’re made to last in the elements and come in longer lengths than the more widely available seasonal lights.
Italian-style stonework and ceramics. Stone basins, clay urns and water features imported from the Mediterranean or made in a similar style add interest to wine country gardens. Site larger pieces at the ends of walkways to act as focal points, or frame them with shrubs along a garden wall.
Wine Country 6: Jay Sifford Garden Design, original photo on Houzz
Wine-related garden art. Accent garden terraces and patios with art pieces inspired by winemaking or created using recycled wine-related materials. For example, these simple globes look like the ones often made from the strips of metal that go around traditional wooden wine barrels.
Antiques and old farm objects. To give a sense of history to a new home or garden, look for antique containers, hand-wrought hardware for doors, old fence posts or hitching rails for horses to use as accents.