Beautiful and edible in Sebastopol

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The garden just beyond Lynmar Estate's tasting room in late summer is effervescent — orange and deep purple, bronze and gold, dark red, magenta and chartreuse.

Hummingbirds, finches and bees hover and cruise for nectar, seeds and pollen, choosing among a feast of plants and flowers from orange tithonia or Mexican sunflowers to zinnias, lavender blue anise hyssop to cosmos to amaranth.

The busy botanical congestion in rural Sebastopol is so great that you can barely navigate the narrowing paths without brushing up against leaves or blooms or branches.

Nine months ago, this overgrown garden didn't exist. All its summer exuberance sprang up during this growing season. It is precisely how garden designer Kate Frey imagined it — a garden cascading with color and foliage, both beautiful and good enough to eat.

"It seems like this was just so wide open and one-dimensional," says Frey, one of the North Coast's most respected garden designers, who began bringing in enriching compost for this ornamental, edible Eden just last fall.

The director of the sustainable landscape program at Sonoma State University and creator of such gardens as the Melissa Honeybee Sanctuary in Healdsburg and the storied gardens at the former Fetzer Valley Oaks in Hopland, Frey was recruited to carry out the commitment of owners Lynn and Anisya Fritz to farming sustainably in this sensitive and scenic spot overlooking the Laguna de Santa Rosa.

She had already done some perennial borders outside the tasting room. But for this new, jubilant display garden bordering a tasting room deck, she chose primarily annuals and among those, especially beautiful herbs and vegetables mixed with flowers that either are edible or attract beneficial birds and insects.

Big pots on the tasting deck are overflowing with knockout plants you can also eat, like Greek mini basil, gold chard, delicate celery and booming architectural statements like red bore kale. Mixed in you might see deep purple petunias, edible nasturtiums and hot chili peppers.

"I wanted to show that you're not giving up anything by having a vegetable garden in terms of beauty or ornamentation. There are wonderful things to eat that are also beautiful," says Frey, whose artistic touch with plants many regard as weeds or wildflowers has won her gold medals at England's prestigious Chelsea Flower Show and an invititation from a Saudi prince to create an ornamental vegetable garden outside of arid Riyadh.

Everything in this new garden is densely planted with lots of mulch to hold down weeds. Each plant is carefully selected to serve a purpose. Each must earn its keep, either as food for the plate or food for wildlife.

"While these are beautiful, I want them to contribute to the whole environment. I think the flowers that offer good habitat are the flowers we love, so it's easy to focus on them."

Frey has been working with Dr. Gordon Frankie, a UC Berkeley professor who has been studying native bees in urban environments.

"He surveys gardens in cities from San Diego to Redding and has compiled a lot of information about what plants bees like," says Frey.

Visitors, who can walk through on their own or take a guided tour of all of Lynmar's extensive and far-flung gardens, will see things that are familiar and that may surprise. Among Frey's favorites is purple orach, a winter and spring green that is very nutritious and has beautiful seed heads.

"It's been cultivated since the Greek and Roman times," she explains. "It's somewhat like spinach, but it's taller and more robust. It's supposed to be one of the most nutritious of greens."

Gardens abound everywhere at Lynmar, a bird sanctuary graced by a pair of nesting bald eagles as well as osprey, hawks and 200 other species.

Frey's predecessor, Michael Pressley, inspired by a visit to Valley Oaks, planted borders of natives and perennials along the vineyards to attract beneficial birds and insects. Frey has revitalized them with compost and irrigation and mulch, as well as additional plants like European columbine, which re-seed and which hummingbirds love. She's also introducing more low maintenance plants like the native coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica), California buckwheat and California fuchsia.

Along the road to a picturesque barn where Frey and other garden staff save seeds and dry cut flowers like feverfew, dianthus and lavender are more gardens, equally informal, crammed with food crops — cherry tomatoes, basil, carrots, beets, peppers — for chef David Frakes.

"I pinch myself every day I come here. I'm in awe of this place," says Frakes. "The inspiration comes fast and furious. All I have to do is walk through the garden and I get ideas for things I haven't done yet."

Winery owner Lynn Fritz says Lynmar is committed not just to growing the best varieties, but the best varieties for this terroir, with its cool, misty mornings and warm breezy afternoons.

The bounty feeds a growing number of special luncheons, dinners and events. Any excess supports the Ceres Community Project, in which youth prepare healthy organic meals for people who are sick or battling disease.

"We've always done pretty well with food, but we've never been able to integrate it the way Kate has been able to do," Fritz said. "And it's also good to the eye, just like grapes are."

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey or 521-5204.

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