Deep in the rolling hills of Napa County, California, lies a bucolic scene that will take your breath away. Drifts of coppery-pink flowers and ice-blue grasses spill onto serpentine paths, and century-old olive trees and mossy boulders lend quiet gravitas. This piece of paradise was created by Anooshey Rahim, principal of the landscape-architecture firm Dune Hai, who transformed five acres of the dry grassland into a vibrant, water-wise refuge. "This is my love letter to gardens," she says.
Truth be told, it wasn't love at first sight. In 2019, Rahim got a call from Bay Area architecture studio CAHA, asking her to complete the landscaping at a retreat the firm had designed for a family of six, including grandparents, parents, and a child. The clients wanted an escape two hours north of their busy lives in San Francisco, and had already installed a pool and a tennis court. On her initial visit, all Rahim saw was scrubby slopes and fields. Views of uncleared forest and neighboring vineyards were visible far in the distance, but the area around the main and guest houses desperately needed some life and love.
With the recreational areas well in place, Rahim quickly realized what the grounds lacked: intimate spaces for the big family to explore and get lost in. "When you have so many people around all the time, you need places to go," she says. "There was nowhere to wander or take a private walk."
Inspired by national-park trail systems in which paths lead you to viewpoints and scenic locales, she began with one long gravel walkway, starting near the main house and breaking off into secluded spots: a clearing with a vista, a table for two under a tree, a sheltered nook for reading. As the design for the walkway evolved, Rahim grappled with how to end it. "Then I thought, Why terminate it? Let's connect it," she says.
With that, she devised a one-mile loop within the property connecting all the different destinations. A concrete stairway draws explorers up to an olive-tree garden, while another trail twists down toward a creek. And everywhere, lush groups of plants form tapestries that ripple with different textures.
Another challenge Rahim overcame was making sure that lush didn't mean thirsty. Every plant she added is either native or adapted to California's climate, requiring little water. A nearby retention pond collects precipitation during the rainy months and pumps it into a drip-irrigation system, which will be used less and less as the plants become more established. Not only is the final result drought-tolerant and low-maintenance; it's amazingly colorful and multisensory: Rosemary and thyme fill the air with their heady herbal fragrances, bees hum, and long-blooming Verbena bonariensis, purple salvia, and pink sedum paint the garden in pastels.
To conjure a sense of timelessness, Rahim arranged gray-and copper-toned boulders from other parts of the property and a nearby site, and strategically positioned knotty olive trees to look as if they'd been growing there forever. She envisions these elements as surprises for visitors to stumble upon when they turn a corner. "No matter how small or large a property," she says, "there is always a journey to uncover."
Here, four 100-year-old olive trees are the senior citizens in this otherwise young garden. Rahim sited each one so they're visible from all angles while one walks through the garden. Here she surrounded one with a groundcover of thyme, rosemary, silvery-blue artemisia, and local stones that "look like old-world ruins," she says.
Rahim covered the inlaid steel borders along the walkways with wispy blue fescue (Festuca glauca); it also covers the bases of the boulders. Salvia 'Amistad' lends a splash of purple against a backdrop of green leaves from lime and apricot trees in the garden and the forest beyond.
To fill in the paths, which widen and narrow as they weave through the landscape, Rahim created a custom blend of white gravel and red lava rocks to bring out the tones in the boulders and complement the color palette of the plants. The plantings include rosy Sedum 'Autumn Joy', deep purple Salvia 'Amistad', wispy green Muhlenbergia, and Verbena bonariensis.
When Rahim first walked up this hillside, she saw dry grass "as far as the eye could see." She revitalized it with large sweeps of Sedum 'Autumn Joy', which will age to a deep terracotta; bright-purple salvia, blue-gray Festuca glauca, and golden sprays of Festuca mairei. The plants are drought-tolerant, following strict planting protocols in California.