Well, another road trip is drawing to a close, but not before two more fun-filled days.



After leaving San Francisco, we headed up toward Napa Valley.  Despite it being a rainy day, we were determined that getting a little wet wouldn’t hinder us from exploring this area.


Our first stop was (not surprisingly) a winery.  Many wineries were surrounded by beautiful landscapes and to be honest, I like plants more than wine, so I spent more time outside than inside sampling wine.


Olive trees and roses were prevalent in landscape beds alongside grape vines.


Young grapes were beginning to appear on the vine.


Ivy climbed up the walls of buildings and neatly trimmed boxwood shrubs enclosed areas filled with roses and shrubby germander (Teucrium fruiticans) shrubs.  


The green hills were studded with oak trees and tall poplar trees were also used throughout the area.


The next morning was sunny and warm making it a perfect day to spend exploring  Cornerstone Sonoma with its trendy stores and gardens.


Many of the stores were filled with items for both home and garden while others offered stylish clothing with a casual theme.  


An artisan created ollas onsite.  These clay containers are buried in the ground and are an old-fashioned way to water plants that have seen a resurgence in popularity. 

Also offered for sale were shallow basins that mimic the appearance of wood.  They were filled with water and used as containers for plants.


Old grape vines were used as borders for garden beds as well as for an accent piece in the garden – you could also buy some for your own garden.


Unique, rusted metal containers were for sale, just waiting to be taken home and planted.

Throughout the shopping area were creative container plantings that I really liked.  They were housed in square metal containers and filled with purple hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa ‘Purpurea’) and bush morning glory (Convolvulus cneorum).  The focus on these containers wasn’t on flowers but rather on the colorful foliage of the plants.

One very exciting element of Cornerstone Sonoma is their new partnership with the folks at Sunset Magazine who are moving their test gardens and their test kitchen to this popular spot in Napa Valley.


While the official opening isn’t until mid-May, the Sunset Test Gardens were well on their way to being completed.

Large amounts of plants were still waiting to be planted in the new Sunset test gardens, which is where new plant varieties will be evaluated while also allowing the public to see them up close.

Landscapers were hard at work planting the new gardens.


 There are a lot of creative garden structures and I hope to see these gardens someday once everything is finished.



Next on our tour was the existing Cornerstone Gardens, which are described on their website “as  an ever-changing series of gardens, showcasing innovative designs from international and local landscape architects and designers.  They create a cultural and creative haven, celebrating the connection between art, architecture and nature”. 

“There are currently nine Cornerstone Gardens. 
Continually in a state of evolution, some garden installations will be in place for a season, while others will remain for several seasons.”

Approaching the gardens, the main path takes you by a grassy area, dappled with shade.  The focal part of this area is the ‘plastic pinwheel flower garden’.  Passersby enjoy this fun take on a traditional flower bed – especially kids.

Individual gardens were surrounded by Japanese privet hedges, creating a sense of mystery as you walk toward the entry into each one.

One of my favorites was In the Air by Conway Chen Chang.  “This garden is intended to give the viewer a better sense of the human relationship to air in a very playful and whimsical way.”

Wisteria Vine

Clematis flowers
A curved path with uniquely-shaped step stones sits beneath curved metal rebar with clematis vines.

The next garden was filled with plants that are popular in the Southwest, including Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima) and Agave salmiana.

Garden of Contrast by James Van Sweden and Sheila Brady

“This is an experience of contrasting texture, form, color, and scent that changes with the seasons.”

I love contrasting textures in the landscape and using agave with its bold shapes alongside ornamental grasses and their wispy texture creates drama in the garden.

Eucalyptus trees
This garden was the most unusual, in my opinion and paid homage to the eucalyptus tree.

Eucalyptus Soliloquy by Walter Hood & Alma Dusolier

“A celebration of the non-native eucalyptus trees in the Sonoma Valley.”

Driving throughout Southern, Central and Northern California, eucalyptus trees are almost as  familiar as native oak trees.
Wire cages held strips of eucalyptus bark and decorative eucalyptus seed pods were piled at the base.


The wire cages framed an attractive view with a pond filled with waterlilies.

Rise by Roger Raiche and David McCrory

“A tubular experience that stirs and arrange of emotional response.  A place for interaction and play.”

I loved the use of contrasting colors and textures in this garden, don’t you?


The view at the end of the ‘tunnel’ was a field of grape vines.

We spent a wonderful morning at Cornerstone Sonoma and I highly recommend visiting if you ever find yourself in San Francisco (it’s about 1 hour north).

As we left Napa Valley, heading back toward to San Francisco and our airline flight back home, I found that crossing the famous Golden Gate Bridge the perfect way to finish a fabulous road trip.



Thank you so very much for coming along with me.  


We will be back on the road next year!

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a horticulturist, certified arborist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."

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