The Gardens at Cornerstone

I hardly ever turn down an opportunity to visit garden spaces and this opportunity came with attending the American Conifer Society Western Region conference. I enjoy seeing how space is designed hoping that it sparks my imagination and appeals to my emotions. The Gardens at Cornerstone in Sonoma delivered. The destination garden is unique (and there are some lovely garden and home stores on site, too). It’s a series of walk-through gardens showcasing innovative and thoughtful design from some of the country’s best landscape designers and architects. The styles of each garden vary tremendously—and are redesigned periodically—and each tug at one’s understanding of space and place. Here’s a sampling, but I encourage you to make the trip yourself to see all the gardens.

Bai Yun (White Cloud) – Designed by Cao Perrot Studios
Chicken wire clouds hang with cut crystals to catch and reflect the daylight and moonlight. They hover over an undulating landscape of prickly pear cactus, crushed granite, oyster shells and recycled glass. With the help of garden designer Amy Whitworth, I actually made similar clouds also hung with crystals for a display at the Farwest Tradeshow this past August. We called it “Liquid Sunshine.” I loved the effect, as did many visitors to the display. As Amy wisely advised, the key is to create volume in the clouds. I’m thinking about proposing the concept to my neighbor when we design a fence that will separate our yards. It would provide something to tease us out into the garden and reflect upon year-round.

Garden Play – Designed by Seam Studio
This garden provides an enclosed space separate from the “outside” world. It’s a place of functionality where one comes to sit or play or simply a space of beauty. I am attracted to the starkness and openness of the crushed gravel and the simplicity of the planting. I’ve considered using a similar design for a part of my garden that might feature a simple planting of fruit trees. I’ve seen it done with great effect in a Eugene garden: four fruit trees, gravel and an egg-shaped stacked rock sculpture à la Andy Goldsworthy.

Photo courtesy of Kym Pokorny

Changing RoomsRios Clemeni Hale Studios
The wishing tree in this garden—yes, that’s me hanging my wish—encourages visitors to understand that the power of joining together individual dreams is crucial to making a difference in our world. You might have a tree or structure where you can hang wishes, or objects with meaning. One of my favorites is garden designer Lucy Hardiman’s large witch hazel that is strewn with dozens of glass ornaments; each one most likely has a special story and evokes a loving memory.

Red Lantern – Designed by Cao Perrot Studios
The many Chinese-inspired elements in this garden reference mid-19th century Chinese immigrant workers. The wire designs are quintessential Chinese cloud designs that drip with orange-red glass ornaments. The water provides a foil for the reflective wire. What you don’t see in this photo are the wooden planks, reminiscent of railroad timbers, hovering just above the level of the water, that lead the visitor to the center of the space.


Mediterranean Meadow – Designed by Greenlee & Associates
This was perhaps my favorite space of all the 20+ gardens at Cornerstone. It was a dune filled garden with flowing swaths of grasses and large sculpture. The garden was a nod to Sonoma’s prairie roots and the magic of grasses, although with the overcast skies it seemed more reminiscent of the Oregon coast.