Sunset Gardens: A Self-Guided Tour

As luck would have it, I worked in Menlo Park today. Menlo Park, California is home to Sunset Gardens, a test garden for Sunset Books and Sunset Magazine. After work, I headed straight there and took the (frigid) self-guided tour.

Southern Pacific Railroad Company founded Sunset Magazine in 1898 . It evolved over the years to reflect the changing times. It went from promotional tool, to literary magazine, before settling into what it is today: a lifestyle magazine for the west. For over 40 years, they’ve produced the Western Garden Book, the most comprehensive book of its kind. I’m on my second copy, and though it’s now available on the web, I still enjoy the weight of the book in my hand and the ease of use.

Sunset’s headquarters surrounds the editorial test garden in addition to an array of Climate Zone gardens ranging from the Pacific Northwest to the Southern Desert. It’s a testament to the Bay Area temps that the Menlo Park location can support so many growing zones.

I’m going to make an extra effort this year to get back there in the spring, when the rose garden and many of the flowering shrubs are in bloom.

Here are the highlights from today:

Garden Bench

Garden Bench

The one downside to self guided tours is all the unanswered questions.  I was curious to know more about this bench,tucked in a corner near the chicken coop.  It’s made from a variety of recycled material, including old fence planks, scraps of metal, and the insulator caps from old high-tension wires.  The birdhouse posts on the end of the bench are fully functional, though probably impractical from a predator stand point.  They’re awfully cute though.

Birdhouse bench closeup

Birdhouse bench detail

Healthy Chickens

Healthy Chickens = garden manure

Wine Country Chicken Coop

Wine Country Chicken Coop

That is one, high-end chicken coop, conveniently located near the composting bins.

Succulent Planter

Succulent Planter

This lovely planter was part of a seating area.  It’s made from driftwood and scraps of lumber.

Stylish Seating Area

Stylish Seating Area

Test Garden Pavers

Test Garden Pavers

This unique patio meandered through the entrance to the Test Garden.  What looks like crushed rock, is actually tumbled recycled glass (white and green).  The small round objects are actually synthetic wine “corks” from a Bay Area winery.  The dark squares, upper right corner, are scraps of fencing lumber.  Clever use of cast off materials.

Recycled, Tumbled Green Glass

Recycled, Tumbled Green Glass

Cactus Garden

Cactus Garden: Keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times 🙂

The Old Man: Coast Live Oak

The Old Man: Coast Live Oak

Garden Path and Plantings

Garden Path and Plantings

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To learn more about the history of Sunset, visit their website.

Self-guided tours are free and open to the public Monday through Friday from 9:00 to 4:00 pm. Call ahead for additional details at 1-650-321-3600. The gardens are universally accessible.

10 thoughts on “Sunset Gardens: A Self-Guided Tour

  1. Thanks for the tour Alys, hope your didn’t freeze to badly. I really love so much about their garden, starting with the painted brick facade near that cute bench. It makes it so airy and fresh. I visited a country garden once with my friend Karen, they had the most beautiful chickens. They were really soft. Their daughter gave me an egg, it was blue/green with speckles..very pretty. Are you aloud to have them in San Jose?
    I would love a path of tumbled glass. What good ideas they’ve incorporated. My grandparents house was that old sparkly stucco with little bits of dark blue and green glass in it…it was like a fairytale house. I’ve also seen recycled glass incorporated into quartz countertops…awesome. It really appeals to my ‘beachy’ decorating leanings.
    “keep your hands and feet in this ride at all times”, you’re so witty…that made me laugh.

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    • I’ve outgrown my Canadian cold tolerance to be sure. It was in the 40s f, but I left my jacket in the car! Silly me. Try not to laugh too hard.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the pics. We can add Sunset Gardens to your growing San Jose itinerary. It’s only thirty minutes away. It’s also close to Stanford University and Palo Alto so lots to see.

      I have several friends now with chickens in San Jose and I’ve been tempted myself. I think it would be very cool to have them. Again, space is always a factor and then I worry about the cats, too. I would want the chickens to have plenty of room. Maybe one day.

      They are super soft and can be quite tame. I’ve had a chance to hold one. My friend Liz keeps chickens in Los Gatos, CA and again in New Zealand. She’s my idol.

      I love the sound of your grandparents house. I can tell you have good memories there.

      I too would love a tumbled glass walk way. It was overcast yesterday, but I bet it looks brilliant in the bright sun.

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      • What a big commute from New Zealand to California, sounds like Liz enjoys life! I’ve seen so many cute chicken houses on the Net, like little exquisite play houses, that would be fabulous in a garden. I wander if Sunshine has considered it? Her revamped Garden Building is glorious. I won’t laugh at your cold intolerance, but heads up…anything over 75 F and I’m melting…HA…might have to speed along with windows down. I’d love to visit this garden, if we can manage. Holy Cow Alys, how will we do it all? I wonder how expensive tumbled glass would be? I’m going to Google that because I just love that idea…oh man, in seafoam green! Have you been to visit Liz in New Zealand? I follow a blog there, it’s been super duper hot.

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  2. The pictures are so lovely-made me want to tag along on your tour in person. I remember my Mom used to go to Sunset to their test kitchens when I was in High school. She loved it there-thanks for bringing back that memory 🙂

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