What's Happening at Cornerstone ??

Cornerstone Sonoma opened some 15 years ago in Sonoma County  as a wine country marketplace featuring gardens as art , wine tasting and shops. The gardens are now and have always been free to visit, with the hope that visitors would spend some money in the cafes, shops and tasting rooms. The founders hoped to pattern the venue after the international Garden Festival at Chaumont-sur-Loire.   You can see the echos when looking at images of the French festival, and Cornerstone came the closest to it's French inspiration when in September of 2009, 'The Late Show Gardens' made it's debut. Not the typical spring indoor 'flower show' with it's displays of  tulips, cool season annuals and flowering trees ' 'Late Show' was a celebration of  summer harvest times and the richness of our wine country fall. Many of the display gardens addressed the climate and water issues that have since  moved closer to the spotlight for California gardeners. This was conceived as an annual event but sadly as it turned out it was one and done- no doubt the recession was a factor, not to mention the absence of a robust horticultural community in our region.  As the years passed rumors of a resurrection of the show came and went but eventually it became clear that was not due to repeat. In 2015 , Sunset Magazine sold their campus in Menlo Park -including their test gardens and outdoor kitchen -and moved to Oakland. They subsequently entered into a relationship with Cornerstone to home their gardens there and a few of the remaining Late Show installations were removed and opened space for Sunset. This was an encouraging development since the grounds had stagnated somewhat and it was definitely time for a refresh. A few years later Kate Frey created a beautiful and lively pollinator garden, which has turned out to be the last new installation to this point. I visited cornerstone in September for the first time since the pandemic and it appears more changes are afoot. 

 Any venue dependent on events and tourism had rough times in the last couple of years and I expect Cornerstone was no exception.Signs of decreased maintenance were everywhere and even the Sunset display gardens are getting tired and overgrown. 

 This area surrounding the glasshouse pavilion in the Sunset Test Garden is now mature and looks pretty good but it won't be long before some subtraction may be in order.

 This bed of Festuca is not great .

And some badly pruned Lavandula 'Meerlo' engulf an Agave. These were basically chopped off at the beginning of the patio that this bed adjoins.

The cutting garden looked ok but disheveled. My garden looks disheveled in late summer/early fall too, but I'm not open to the public.


Outside of Sunsets' area of  Cornerstone there were signs of a change of focus.
 

 White Cloud by Andy Cao and Xavier Perrot has been partially dismantled. I have not been very successful at taking decent photos of this particular garden , but what I loved about it was the way the bank of faux clouds with its clusters of crystals as raindrops could be seen from many points along the pathways looking like a tiny storm in the distance.

 
 
 Here it  is viewed from the Pollinator Garden -I think in 2019.


  This was a demonstration vineyard. Removed and replaced with...lawn.

 

Worst of all was the condition of John Greenlees Mediterranean Meadow which was almost unrecognizable in spots.

A few rows of what appeared to be sunflowers inexplicably plopped into a spot where  grasses were cleared.


Here are few photos of Greenlees garden from  fall 2016




 

The Pollinator Garden was still going strong if a little rough around the edges-which is ok for a garden of this sort. There were some things that could use some editing due to over enthusiasm but based on what I was seeing elsewhere those sorts of skills were in short supply at Cornerstone.

 






 I'm not sure what will become of this James Van Sweden and Sheila Brady garden- the Olive trees that were a small backdrop when the garden was first installed have grown to the extent that almost the whole thing is deep shade . You can't knock a bloomy Agave though-this was one of 3.

 Back in the day-I think the rosemary is long gone.


 Gradually I have seen space that once held gardens converted in to event areas-the lawn planted in the former demo vineyard is only one example. My hope is that all of this is just another Covid era pivot . I've made a note to go back next spring and see what things look like then.




Comments

  1. This is such an interesting post. With a bit of maintenance, it should be possible to breathe new life into the gardens, at least most of them. I really hope the powers-that-be at Cornerstone recognize the potential.

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    1. My 7 day total on my rain gauge is about 8.5 . We're an inch or so shy of the entirety of last year . I checked a couple of the official county rain collection sites and one of them is only about a mile from me and they also show 8 so I think mine is pretty accurate.We had water u to the top of the curb in my neighborhood-the storm drains backed up during the height of the storm. I had some Austin flashbacks !

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  2. It's sad to see so many neglected areas but the pandemic certainly sidelined many business plans. I went onto Cornerstone's website and found a reference under the Gardens tab to "new ownership" and "many new gardens" but there was nothing I could find to indicate when that news was posted. The Sunset tab was apparently last updated in 2018 and it refers to "taking a break." However, the Events tab showed current offerings. The Press tab also had recent postings but the majority referred to restaurants.

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    1. Kris , I think that 'new ownership' goes back a few years, and the 'many new gardens' was short-lived. The last Sunset plant list was put up in 2019, but lets face it the gardening content has dwindled in that publication and I predict we have seen the last update of the Western Garden Book . The fact that they put in a new chunk of lawn (and there is ample lawn there already) raised a red flag for me. We'll see how things shake out next spring .

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  3. My most vivid memory of that garden/gardens (besides the agaves of course) was the garden with the large tunnel/Marcia Donahue sculptures and water. Is it still there? Fingers crossed things move in the right direction...

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    1. Yes that garden is still there thank goodness-that is a Roger Raiche and David McCrory garden and it has held up well.

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  4. A few volunteers from a community college hort program could work wonders. No matter who designs them, gardens don’t maintain themselves. Maybe water issues as well? Thanks so much for this update.

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    1. I expect there could be water issues but they might be on well water -dependent on the water table of course. But they're planting more lawn so what is the priority of the water they use ?

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  5. Condemned to be an "event space"? Cue all the roses for the weddings--not that I don't love roses, but...lawn....

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    1. They have put in a rose garden and it's pretty nice, but didn't look like much on this visit so I took no photos.But you can see the connection-rose gardens are pretty classic wedding venues. That new chunk of lawn really says something about the garden management here. Lack of awareness comes to mind.

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