You probably couldn’t guess that Dave and Nancy Roche’s bucolic home and garden is only one mile from the always-bustling Sonoma Plaza. The husband-and-wife design team behind Roche + Roche Landscape Architecture have created a thoughtful garden teeming with texture and seasonal interest, centered around drifts of low-maintenance plants and filled with the chattering of migratory birds and red-shouldered hawks. It connects on a deep level to the architecture and the surroundings. And this was the couple’s exact intention.
When Dave, a landscape architect, and Nancy, a designer and horticulturist, work with clients — primarily wineries, resorts, and residential estates — they focus on creating contemporary garden sanctuaries. When it came time to design their own garden space, this focus certainly persisted, but they had the opportunity to dial down the complexity and up the experimental factor. “We try plants out, move them if necessary. We try out materials, details, and construction methods with less concern over their longevity,” says Dave. “Our own landscape is our distilled laboratory of sanctuary,” adds Nancy.
The couple first saw the property in 1998, and quickly fell in love not only with the location, but also with the trees: mature sycamores, oaks, and a Persian mulberry — plus a 9-foot wall of prickly pear cactus along the road. “We have it on good authority that these are the offspring of prickly pears from the General’s Daughter property, originally planted by General Vallejo’s daughter,” says Dave.
Over time, Dave and Nancy remodeled the 1950s single-level ranch home and redid the landscaping, all within a modest budget. For the home, the couple chose a corrugated, galvanized steel roof and a deep mossy-hued exterior paint color that allows the house to recede and highlights the quiet green landscape. “We sometimes jokingly refer to it as the ‘Park Headquarters,’” says Dave of the home’s unassuming design. Nancy and Dave, along with Dave’s father and many friends, were able to complete much of the interior finish work themselves, including custom steel shelves and kitchen counters created by Dave’s late friend and mentor, Jack Chandler.
Dave, with a majority vote on hardscape choices, and Nancy, with a majority vote on anything plant-related, harmonized their vision and design aesthetic to create a thoughtful and well-used outdoor space. Nancy’s goals for the planting plan centered around creating a mostly native landscape filled with adapted shrubs, perennials, and ornamental grasses that would provide food and shelter for birds throughout the year. “We believe landscapes should be ‘of a place,’” explains Nancy. A large vegetable garden wasn’t as much of a focus, as the couple loves supporting local Sonoma growers and farmers while they stay busy with their design firm. But they do harvest from a large bed of mint, pick Elephant Heart plums, make chutney from their quince crop, and load up on mulberries for jam and smoothies.
A series of planned garden rooms allows the couple and their friends to move through informal spaces that feel peaceful and restorative. One favorite: the north-facing terrace, slightly elevated and made of board-formed concrete and bluestone, which connects the kitchen, dining room, and living room. This is where they dine, read, listen to music — even nap outdoors. Above the terrace stands a stunning arbor, fashioned from rusted steel beams and reclaimed steel plumbing pipe, that supports a mature table-grape vine. It’s an element that hits on two of the couple’s favorite things, Japan-esque design and reclaimed material, says Dave. The arbor frames a view of the Mayacamas, with neighboring meadows and rustic barns in the foreground. And during Sonoma’s sweltering summers, the vine provides just the right amount of cooling shade.
Dave and Nancy have other favorite garden spots as well. They created an intimate outdoor room where rustic stepping stones lead to a hot tub nestled among Japanese maples and underplanted with Japanese anemones and native Berkeley sedge grasses. And they’re drawn to the modest lawn area, well used in summer for badminton and croquet. Square pads of integrally colored concrete frame the grass and create a spot for an umbrella and two chaises. The couple often end the day there, appreciating the borrowed scenery, watching the late afternoon sun filter through the trees, backlighting the stately corkscrew willow and catching the flower spikes on the giant feather grass.
“Along with the chorus of birds and the occasional bleating of neighboring sheep, we find this spot amazingly soothing,” Dave says. “And it’s where we do our best nature bathing.”
Roche + Roche Landscape Architecture, Sonoma, rocheandroche.com
Installation and maintenance
Carlos Landscape Inc., Napa, carloslandscapeinc.com
Ault’s Builders, Napa, 707-363-2151