Prettier Planting Bed

By Kate Riley October 12, 2015

Because of the drought here in California, we neglected our yard this summer, cutting our landscape water usage by more than 50% and letting our rear yard lawn practically die. Most of the perennials and the vineyard were forced to survive with much less water but they lived. Our yard is terraced which is nice because it enjoys privacy since we have no rear yard neighbor looking in. The sloped hill forced us to create different zones with stairs and retaining walls but it makes the yard layered and interesting.

terraced yard and stairs

The lowest zone is the courtyard off the kitchen and dining room which leads to a staircase (glimpse below). At the top of the stairs if you veer to the left you walk up another staircase to the mostly dead lawn (seen above) and the studio above the garage. Veer to the right to sit down in our covered cabana where we dine and BBQ in fair weather.

courtyard view of staircase

The back hill is where we grow Pinot Noir, we have one hundred vines in a hobby vineyard, I’ve written about the vines here. We had a meager harvest of our Pinot Noir this year which is common in the region, only producing half as many grapes as in previous years, but we will be blending with a neighbor to produce a barrel so all’s well that ends well. The leaves are turning and it’s a pretty sight, but soon they’ll fall to the ground so I’ll enjoy the color while it lasts.

pinot noir grapevines

The Sunset Western Garden Collection™ approached me with an offer to spruce up a planting bed with a few of their plants and I readily accepted, knowing ours was in such sad shape. I’ve subscribed to Sunset Magazine for over a decade, it’s such a wonderful resource for those of us that live in the West, always featuring landscaping ideas, inspiring interiors, and not to miss travel destinations from Arizona up to Alaska.

I had a neglected half circular planting bed at the top of the stairs, it’s a focal point in the yard so it was time to add just a few new plants so that it wasn’t an eyesore anymore. It’s on a drip system so we knew we could pull out the ugly, trim the overgrown, and replant with a few new varieties.

planting bed before

Two weeks after planting, it’s looking so much better!

planter bed side view

Sunset Garden (sister to Southern Living) delivered the plants to my door in late September which saved me time. All arrived in excellent shape, except for two of the lavender plants, but I was able to replace them from a local nursery that carries the same collection.

plants delivered

plants delivered 2

The first thing we did was pull out the dead plants then prep with new soil.

prep soil

I turned the unused fountain into a planter, tucking kale and succulents below and a pretty polygala petite butterfly sweet pea above. My beautiful viburnum on the left which is my favorite plant in my yard gives me puffy white snowballs in spring and gorgeous fall leaves in autumn continues to thrive year after year.

fountain planter

  plants in fountain

In years past, I’ve planted with cool tones, incorporating lavender or purple blooms, I prefer them to red or orange blooms in our yard so the few plants we added are in the same purple palette. We have a few varieties of lavender and dried grasses that grow well in Northern California and need little water.

sage and purple plants


Pictured below are Love and Wishes Salvia (left) and Meerlo Lavender (right) – also I love using black mulch, it shows off the plants so well, see even yards need a touch of black!

sunset garden plants

On the adjacent flight of stairs is a pot of Chef’s Choice Rosemary, Black and Bloom Salvia, and more Beyond Blue Festuca grass.

plants in pots on stairs

I’ve had this bird bath for over ten years, from my kitchen window I watch all kinds of birds playing in it so I keep it filled water for the wildlife.

birdbath in planter bed

The Sunset Western Garden Collection™ was introduced in spring 2012 and is a plant collection designed specifically for the Western gardener. Their partnerships with local growers allow them to customize the collection to best meet the climatic differences diverse gardening regions in the West so for those of you who live in the Western states, look for them at your local nursery!

planting bed and fountain


* This gardening post is in partnership with Sunset Western Garden Collection™, all opinions are my own.


  1. Your pictures are absolutely stunning! I love all of the herbs and flowers mixed together, the birdbath, the soft, white-wash stairs and walls. Very European looking; pretty and relaxing. Made me want to just sit and enjoy the view. Great job!

    • Thank you Sue! Yes our home’s exterior and yard has a French countryside style – we love it and it fits in well with the region :)

  2. OMG the purple is stunning! I love your pics too, very pinterestable :)
    How do you keep the green slime out of a concrete birdbath? I have a porcelain one that I dump over and rinse before I refill every couple days but I don’t understand how that would work with a concrete one?

    • I use a power spray nozzle about once a week Maria to get any grime or goo out of the birdbath, after a minute it’s fresh and clean :)

  3. Wow! What a beautiful space even in the drought! It reminds me of little places in France and Italy! Bravo!

  4. Your home is so beautiful Kate. I agree with Sue, very Eurpoean looking. You’ve done a lovely job inside and out. We ended up ripping out most of our garden this weekend. A couple years ago I put in a cottage English garden but it was requiring way too much water. I salvaged what I could but we’re going for the drought tolerant plants now. I read your post earlier and called around the nurseries for those plants you put in. I love them! I was disappointed nobody carried not even one of them. Any thoughts on where I could find the ones you planted? We live near you. Yes, to the black mulch!! It makes the plants really pop!

    • Hi Allison, I linked to several of them in the post, they can be ordered from Sunset Garden, also many nurseries now carry the collection, I found mine at Friedman’s not sure you have one close by, I can find out where the plants are carried locally in your zip code if you wish – email me: centsationalgirl[at]

  5. Your yard is beautifully designed and filled with so many lovely textures and colors! Thanks for sharing these inspiring photos and planting updates from the Sunset Western Garden Collection.


  6. Agree about the black mulch . . . my backyard fence is black and, you’re right, the plants just zing!

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