A GARDEN FOR
THE FIVE SENSES
In northern California, one family's outdoor space brims and bubbles with natural attractions that you can see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. Wander freely through these pages to take it all in.
The first sound you hear when you walk into Elizabeth Horn and Zach Nelsons garden is the whistling chatter of finches; the second is the gurgle of water from the fountain. Then the fragrance of rosemary greets you as you descend the steps into a loose grid of flowers, foliage, and edibles. This immersive space is just what the couple wanted when they renovated their Hillsborough, California, property in 2012. "The goal was to turn it into a place of healing," Horn says. It's impossible to be anything but relaxed here.
The Horn garden was built where an old, unused tennis court used to be. From the top of the stairs that lead down into the garden, visitors can observe its striking geometric layout. Classic Mediterranean plants like germander, lavender, sage, leucadendron, and pineapple guava edge the beds, keeping it vivid and varied throughout the year.
The garden’s guest cottage, which was designed to resemble Elizabeth Horn and Zach Nelsons first home, looks out onto colorful roses and raised beds bursting with organic vegetables, herbs, and fruit. There is something to pick and taste at every turn.
Horn and Nelson created the 10,000-square-foot organic garden largely for their then-16-year-old daughter, Sophia, who has autism. "In my experience, eating local, clean, organic food is one of the best medicines for all children, especially those with health issues like autism," says Horn, a filmmaker who has devoted herself to autism research for the past two decades.
Leslie Bennett loves how the plantings announce the time of year: “When the apricots are ripe, I know it’s June,” she says. “When the pineapple guava peaks, it’s October. These things help you pay attention to nature and all that is changing around us.”
After installing raised beds, the couple brought in landscape designer Leslie Bennett, owner of Oakland-based Pine House Edible Gardens, to revitalize the soil with organic matter and plant an abundance of seasonally rotating fruit, vegetables, and herbs, along with flowers like agastache, echinacea, and yarrow. "They value the gardens beauty and the food it produces equally," says Bennett of her clients. "It makes for a really rich experience."
Horn and Bennett work closely together to grow plants that Sophia likes to eat and look at, such as kale, Swiss chard, and spinach, as well as purple varieties of echinacea, basil, and shiso, because their colors have a soothing effect. Recently, the family introduced the finches, along with chickens, a bunny, outdoor cats, and bees. "Nothing brings energy to a space like animals," Horn says. "Everything happily coexists."
Edibles can thrive in any size space—from a window box to a large plot. “If you grow food, plant flowers, too,” says Bennett; they attract pollinators and helpful insects. Pictured above: Fresh blackberries; tea made from home grown mint and roses; a bed of purplish ‘Redbor’ kale,‘Tutti-Frutti’ agastache blossoms, and lacinato kale.
For a tactile quality, mix in different textures, such as satiny flower petals and fuzzy leaves. To make them stand out, Bennett groups contrasting foliage together: lacy-topped carrots next to broad-leaved chard, for instance. Deeply grooved tree trunks and furry animals count, too.
Choose a palette of colors you love, and blend flowers and foliage in gradations of those hues. Bennett opted for calming purples, apricots, pinks, and yellows. Then enjoy it up close. The couple placed their table among the beds so they would be surrounded by beauty when they eat outside.
Fragrances both floral and herbal bring a garden to life vibrantly. This one is perfumed with roses, lilacs, lavender, citrus blossoms, and sweet angel’s-trumpets, as well as basil, mint, and sage, which release their aromas when snipped or crushed.
Add natural music with wind chimes or a water feature. At top, a fountain sits below a hedge of rosemary by the entrance, welcoming visitors with a soft trickle. (Because the water is circulating, not stagnant, mosquitoes are not a problem.) Chickens cluck throughout the day, while wild birds and insects, attracted by pollinator plants, contribute their own seasonal soundtracks — if you grow them, they will come.