Cornerstone Sonoma & the Sunset Test Gardens

I just returned from a few days visiting family in the East Bay Area and was able to take in some gardens. It was actually about ten degrees cooler in the Bay area than up here in the Portland metro area. May is usually a cool and slightly rainy month in the PNW but this year May has been warm and dry.

This is a three-part report of the gardens I visited. I did not make it to the Ruth Bancroft Garden which is in bloom now. April through June seems to be the best time to visit to see the cacti in bloom there so if you are going down in the next month try to pay a visit to this most unusual garden in Walnut Creek CA.

Many of us gardening on the West Coast grew up with Sunset Magazine and the Sunset Publishing books. My mother always referred to the Sunset Garden Guide and would periodically purchase an updated version. When I lived in the Bay area we often relied on the Sunset Garden Zones rather than the USDA zones as they were more specific to our microclimates.

A couple of years ago Sunset moved from its Menlo Park CA location which had been their home for 65 years. Their new offices are in Jack London Square in Oakland while their test gardens and outdoor test kitchen have been re-located to Cornerstone Sonoma, on Highway 121, just past Sears Point, in Sonoma County, a 45-minute drive from where I was staying in Martinez.

Cornerstone Sonoma is a destination point with high-end boutique style shops (garden decor, antiques, etc), wine tasting rooms, the Park 121 Cafe & Grill restaurant, and the gardens.

I had a bucket list of gardens I wanted to see this trip and this was on the list so my sister, stepdad, and I drove up and spent an afternoon there. After touring the gardens we had lunch outdoors at the Park 121 Cafe & Grill.

None of the Sunset staff were on site which was a shame as we had questions. We were told that some of their gardeners have been busy helping replant local areas devastated by the wildfires last year.

There are five theme gardens by Sunset: the Farm Garden, the Backyard Orchard, the Gathering Space, the Flower Room and the Cocktail Garden. Somehow we missed the Cocktail Garden and Flower Room, probably because we were so caught up in the other gardens.  Below are some photos:




Entrance to Sunset Test Gardens


Orchard Garden


Orchard Garden


Thornless Blackberry climbing over metal arbor


Wire tree in the Orchard Garden

The Orchard Garden was the first we saw and we liked it a lot. The crushed granite paths were lined in ornamental grasses and lots of purple pollinators (salvias and verbena) bordering the small fruit trees. Simple, elegant, and yet very functional.


The Farm Garden



Farm Garden

The Farm Garden consisted of several raised planters with edible flowers, herbs, and vegetables.  Varieties of fragrant sweet peas cover the rounded metal arbor. I believe the idea is that vegetables on vines (squash, tomatoes, etc.) can also be used on the arbors. The structure in the background is a greenhouse. My sister, standing under the arbor.

Metal arbors covered with varieties of sweet peas


Raised beds with flowers, herbs, and vegetables


The Sunset Collection

You have probably seen plants at the nursery tagged Sunset Collection.
This garden had several of those plants.

In addition there are the Cornerstone demonstration gardens by local and international artists. Below are photos of those.


Sonoma Children’s Garden

The Sonoma Children’s Garden was designed to connect kids with their community, hence the grapevines.


White Cloud Garden


White Cloud Garden

I was just gobsmacked by the White Cloud garden depicting clouds moving over a desert landscape. The “clouds” were made of chicken wire hung with crystal “raindrops” underneath. The white ‘sand’ is oyster shell. Who would come up with such a cool and crazy idea? Artists of course, which explains why I’ll never be one! My thinking is too mundane.

Rise Garden

This was a small, almost secret garden which I thought it was very pretty. Co-creator Roger Raiche used to work at the UCB Botanic Garden.


Garden of Contrasts




In the Air Garden

This garden focused on flowering plants up in the air. This side had white roses up a trellis. The opposite side to the left had clematis vines climbing up trellises but they had not yet bloomed.

Rose Garden

This enclosed garden appeared to be quite new.


The Serenity Garden


The Pollinator Garden

This was a kind of allee enclosed on either side by high hedges which then opened up to a large pond with lotus blossoms.


A touch of whimsy


Mediterranean Meadow Garden


And for the shoppers:










Outdoor dining area

If you find yourself in the Bay Area this is an excellent half-day trip. I think we were there for just over three hours. The Gardens are open 10 AM to 4 PM. They are free admittance to the public.

Stay tuned for the Botanic Gardens at Tilden Regional Park.


8 thoughts on “Cornerstone Sonoma & the Sunset Test Gardens

  1. Thank for posting the Sunset pictures. Would love to see them, a little far for me to go these days. Hope you get to see the renovated Bancroft Gardens soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the pics! I love Cornerstone and go there pretty much every time I’m in Sonoma to visit my sister. They have done a very nice job of creating interesting garden spaces. And I love the restaurants and shopping! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You are inspiring me to look for gardens to visit when I am on vacation. Mike and I finally went to the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens, and had a great time. Now to do that again in future vacations!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s