House & Garden Visit - Kathy Hoffman

Kathy Hoffman of Napa, California is truly one of the very best floral designers of all time. Her design ability, aesthetics and attention to detail go far beyond flowers.  She is creative in all facets of her life.  She comes from an incredibly talented family and is a legend in her own right.  Kathy's parents started The French Laundry in Yountville and she worked with them for many years.  After selling the famed restaurant to Thomas Keller, Kathy continued to be the in-house florist up until her retirement this year .  She and her husband, Bill Hoffman, a well-known gardener in Napa Valley are enjoying their house and garden that they have cherished for almost forty years before venturing out for a simpler life in Oregon where they are planning construction on their new house.

How did you get your start in floral design?  When I worked with my family in the restaurant business (mostly at The French Laundry) it fell to me to help my mom make the spaces feel welcoming.  We did that by changing the dining room on a weekly basis, looking to the garden for the week's color palette.  Then we would choose from our linen collection we owned, I would pull containers out and the foraging in the garden would begin.  So I really truly learned from the ground up - didn't know what a flower market was - it had to be growing in The French Laundry garden, my parent's garden next door, my garden or if were were hitting bottom, a neighbor's garden or an empty field.  I did that for sixteen years.  It was an incredible training ground.  Learning day-by-day, making mistakes and hopefully moving forward and learning what not to do the next time.  If I cut something at the wrong stage of growth or in the wrong weather conditions it hurt - we didn't have a lot of extra to waste.  Then when my parents decided to sell and move on to their apple farm project I had to decide to stay in the food and service business or take a leap and start a flower business - by that time you could say I was pretty hooked - it was all about the pleasures of picking, arranging, and transforming a space into something beautiful...

Her parents apple farm project is The Apple Farm in Philo, California now run by Kathy's sister Karen and her family.

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What are your favorite times of year in the garden?  Some of your favorite flowers and plants?  Each season brings its own beauty and certain goodies - I'm always ready for that next change.  Again, it's my mood that decides my favorites - whether I crave a good dose of color, decadence in a full fat bloom, or just beautiful branches and foliages.  In the spring I love white dogwood, ranunculus, gold peonies, floppy open parrot tulips, the first of the late spring fragrant cabbage roses, green hellebores...   Summer it's all about bright flowers with blooming herbs, vegetables and fruit (I love all the endless combinations).  I'm always ready for fall - to ditch all the flowers in favor of beautiful colored leaves - Bradford pear, viburnum, maple, etc. with all the rose hips, berries and acorns I can get my hands on.  It's all about the textures.  Winter brings the pleasure of just enjoying the form of beautiful bare branches against a wall - hazelnut, birch, colored dogwood branches - I crave the simplicity of them in the winter.  But then that branch sits in a warm house in water long enough and those tiny little leaves start to come and I'm ready for spring all over again!!!  I have to admit that spring is my favorite - it's all about the thrill of watching spring come about, leaf by leaf - there's so much promise in that - of new beginnings... All those shades of green just do it for me.  The sheer vitality of it energizes me like no vitamins ever could...

How long have you lived in your house?  Since 1978 - which adds up to an amazing 38 years - hard to believe!

What makes a house a home for you?  I've always been a nester, started as a child with my room - watched my mom who I owe so much of how I walk through life to - as she has always had such a good eye.  Our houses growing up were so personal and lived in.  I've learned from her to fill your house with the things that make you happy - I love color, texture, form, organic things that bring the outside in - and it's got to be in a light filled space.  I get immense pleasure in handling and touching beautiful things in daily life, whether it's a blanket to cuddle in, a special glass to drink from, a spoon that feels good to stir with.  I see no reason to have something just to get the job done when I can have those objects also give me pleasure to handle and look at.  Our house has evolved throughout the years as our tastes and needs changed, our family grew, my business took off. "My stuff" as Bill has labeled it is part of my life - he is stuck with it beacue it is part of who I am.  Nothing makes me happier than making vignettes in the house - stirring up new combinations really just to please my eyes.  It's really all about feeling good in the spaces you live in...

Ceramic faces made by Troyce, the youngest of Kathy's three sons when he was a child. 

What are some of the things you enjoy most about your house?  The open, light-filled rooms with a garden view out every window and door.  Our second floor space that we designed just for us with our bedroom, sitting room, and bathroom with my tub to soak in...it feels like a treehouse - it's cozy and spacious at the same time, with the views of the tops of the trees and that different perspective you get from looking down on things.  Outside, my studio is just a few steps away which I love - no commutes to work!  And, of course the garden, which has been a total work in progress as the growth of the trees and shrubs through the years has changed the things I can grow.  Many of the sunny spots have changed over to dappled and deeper shade, but that has given us the privacy and actually made it a fairly easy garden to care for.  So the garden has evolved.  My idea of a favorite day is to put my cell phone aside, escape to the garden and just do whatever calls to me - sometimes there are specific tasks, or I will start something and end up totally immersed in hours later, totally exhausted but in a good way.. It's so satisfying and stress reducing.  Then there are all the sitting areas and spots in the garden I can go to rest and recoup - a hammock, a comfy chair, my book or a snooze... and lastly, our dinner deck "in the woods" that has seen many good times - just the two of us or a rocking table of family and friends - I feel like I've gone somewhere when we eat up there, like time away...

Kathy's studio seen through the side garden.

How would you describe your style?  I go a lot of directions with that, depending on my mood.  I can be very simple and minimalistic, happy with three stems of weeds in a vase against a certain wall or I can crave lots of texture and layers and groups of objects.  My house is full of color, but all mostly in warm tones - they make me happy.  But, I also get in the mood for all layered neutrals and I never tire of all shades of green - its so energizing and calming at the same time.  I thinks that's the fun of it, having no real barriers, I'll see something that stimulates my imagination and I'm off and running.  I've learned through the years to just let it come, trust myself and not overthink it - the best things happen that way!  I had a lot of art training early on in life and in college - that gave me a foundation to build with.  I used to feel a little disappointed with myself that I did not pursue that more, but to tell the truth I now feel that I'm in my best medium - living and organic things are three dimensional with texture, smell etc. - so much better than a painting or drawing.. I can always return to that and I will in my new life in Oregon.  My new surroundings will be great stimulation for being creative in new ways I hope...

What projects do you have on the horizon?  We are just about to start a whole new life with our upcoming move to the southern Oregon property we have owned for 15 years.  To leave California and our life here is a big deal for both of us but it's a leap we have been working toward for awhile now.   It's been such an amazing process, one with so many decisions that constantly make us think and reflect on what makes us feel good in a home.  It's a chance to make a statement on who we are at this point in our lives - this time around fitting it into a new natural landscape so different than what we are coming from.  I have had to come to terms with the fact I'll never have a garden like I've had here for 38 years - but that it's ok, it will be different and a step back to a simpler life.  We are going to work hard at embellishing nature without leaving too much of a stamp on it.  We've been nurturing the forest and meadow for the last 15 years - it's been so satisfying to watch it become stronger, more diverse, wildflowers and native grasses coming back strong, the constant surprises of all of that.  Being custodians of a forest is an amazing new challenge!

House & Garden Visit - Brooke Harrington

Brooke and her boyfriend, Dan live in a beautiful oasis filled with plants, chickens, dogs and a cat in a 1930's house in Vallejo.  She is an avid gardener, covering nearly every bit of ground with plants, fruit trees, vegetables and vines.  After filling her own garden, she joined a community garden to grow more vegetables and talk to other gardeners.  Her garden is so inspiring as it is free and wild, and so well loved with bees and birds in mind, including a massive passion vine filled with hatching butterfly chrysalises.  There were bees and butterflies flying all about when I visited her earlier this week along with my mom and son who had a great time picking and eating strawberries, raspberries and peaches.  When Brooke is not in her garden, she is busy doing flowers with her mom Polly in their Napa based floral design studio, Valley Flora.  

Questions with Brooke;

How long have you lived in your house?  I have lived here since july 2011! So around 4 years.

What are some of your favorite things about your house?  When I bought my house the garden was depressing, the entire back yard was covered in crabgrass and had some dying pittosporum.  It took me close to a year to slowly cover and kill all the crabgrass which is highly invasive. I used black plastic, then sheet mulched everything to build up the soil and to help amend the dense clay. 

What was the garden like when you bought your house?  Right now the favorite parts of my garden are the ones I have to look after the least! I have several passion vines that thrive on neglect, they provide me with privacy and are great hosts for the gulf fritillary butterfly.  I really cherish my Michelia or banana shrub. When it blooms you can smell it a block away in the evenings. My other favorites are the mod lodge of succulents everywhere and when the mock orange is in bloom! I go through stages so this list will change next month!

What are some of your favorite parts of your garden?  My source for gardening advice starts with my mom. She got me hooked as a young child, so I always ask her first. After that I watch A lot of youtube videos, garden blogs, books and fellow garden nerd friends.  I have a love affair with watching all things about gardening on the BBC UK gardening channel. I could watch that shit all day.

Where do you look for gardening advice?  I pretty much don't like to follow any rules when it comes to gardening. I like to plant things that are pleasing to my eye, and look good with others. Kinda like a living flower arrangement.  If they don't work in one position I will move them. I have ripped out plants and changed color schemes many times! Since my yard is small, when I plant something it has to have multiple purposes. My main factors in this are, is it edible...can I use it as a cut flower, is it beneficial for insects,  will it bloom multiple times, fast growing, and if its fragrant all the better!  Its all trial and error, there is no right or wrong way as far as I'm concerned. I have plants that are labeled full sun, that are thriving in shade. My main goal with my garden is to make it my sanctuary. There is nothing better for me then coming home to something I've worked my ass off to create. Where I can sit, listen to birds, watch bees and bugs,  zone out and clear my mind, it is priceless.

What is your favorite (or favorites) time of the year in the garden?  I'm pretty sure that would be spring. I love when all the fresh new leaves start greening everything up. The light in spring is great too, it just makes you want to stay out in the garden as long as you can! I always forget how fast things grow, I love to watch everything evolve,  the garden will look different every day.