Fortunes Garden

Food Forest Keepers: Phil and Stephanie

We are new to Solano County. We moved from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County to Rio Vista. We loved the redwood forests, but the frequent floods were getting more difficult for us. We lost our family home in a fire a few years ago, then our rental home was sold and we had two months to relocate. In our home search, we stumbled on the quaint community of Rio Vista and decided that this would be our new home. Our new neighborhood feels like it is going to be a wonderful place for our granddaughter to grow up.

Phil had created a lovely raised bed garden at our old home back in Monte Rio, where we raised our three children. Gardening is wonderful for children. We wanted a magical fairyland garden for our granddaughter to grow-up with. Both of us worked with disabled adults at Sonoma Developmental Center. We had raised-bed wheelchair-height therapy gardens for our residents there. Working with growing plants added joy to the lives of the center residents in so many ways. When we retired from work, Phil became a volunteer driver for Meals on Wheels and Stephanie volunteered at Food for Thought, an incredible food program for people living with AIDS and other serious chronic illnesses. Besides commercial food, FFT also had a beautiful organic garden to supplement available produce.

Our new house has a backyard that needs landscaping. We had read about permaculture but had no personal experience with it. We did an internet search, looking for permaculture garden designs that we might be able to adapt to our backyard space. We were delighted to find Sustainable Solano. It seemed like a dream come true. We applied immediately and were awed that we were selected for the program. We imagine that our garden will help others in our new community to create permaculture gardens of their own and connect the neighborhood with installations, harvests, garden parties for kids and adults, canning get-together and sharing with our community. Neighborhood children will be running and playing in their own miniature fairy garden playgrounds.

We have named our garden Fortunes Garden after a merchant marine ship. Phil’s cousin and good friend Jim “Fortune” was born on board the The Fortune in the San Francisco Bay. We feel very fortunate to be here in this small town along the Sacramento River and become part of community gardening.

Site Details

Installation Date:

October 2019


1,915 square feet

Sun Exposure:

8 hours


Cracked, compacted clay

Number of Swales:


Secondary Water:


Roofwater Diverted to Swale

Laundry-to-Landscape Greywater System

Total annual water impact:

38,666 gallons



Designer: Lauren Bennett

Plant List:


Apple, Fig, Mandarin, Pear

Blueberry, California Buckwheat, Ceanothus, Coreopsis grandiflora, Lavender, Pineapple Sage, Sage

Agastache, Artichoke, Asparagus, Basil, Borage, Calendula, Cilantro, Comfrey, Coyote Mint, Dill, Echinacea, Mustard, Parsley, Spinach, Swiss Chard, Yarrow

Strawberries, Calendula, Oregano, Thyme

Garlic, Turnip



Nicole Newell from Sustainable Solano gave us a class in our living room about the project, told us what to expect and set up three Saturdays for the installation. She brought over a professional landscaper with a degree in permaculture, Lauren Bennet from Baywise Gardens in Oakland. Lauren asked me about my ideas and dreams for the garden. My ideas were pretty vague. I told her I wanted a fairy tale edible garden for my granddaudghter to grow up in. I was thinking of the children’s book The Secret Garden. Lauren sent us a garden plan that greatly exceeded all our expectations and even dreams, then asked me if it would do. I was amazed.

Our part of the project was to provide lunch for the workers. I couldn’t afford catering the lunches, so I cooked up some beans. A couple of family and friends showed up and helped me with the cooking and we had a taco bar. The workers were very appreciative of the low-budget meal.

About 20 folks showed up, most of whom had never met us. Many brought their own tools. Nicole arranged delivery of compost, mulch and plants. They dug a swale (a trench about 3 feet deep) and piped the water from the roof gutters through the garden. They laid a cardboard weed barrier, then a layer of compost, and a layer of mulch. This was about three dump truck loads of material. The next Saturday, Andrea from Greywater Action brought a crew and dug out another trench and piped out the greywater from our laundry room to water the new trees.

Lastly, after the first day of ground prep and the second of plumbing, on the third Saturday, Lauren and crew came back to plant. They ran drip lines from the tap and set it up on timers. One kind neighbor brought a big bag of strawberry starts from her own garden. Nicole brought tree chard from her garden and the crew planted a literal truckload of plants. Trees, bushes and understory plants. The majority of the participants thanked us sincerely for opening our home to them for this workshop. I was overwhelmed. This crew did in three days a job that we fully expected to take us five to seven years to complete ourselves, and then thanked US for it. I actually cried. I am so grateful to Nicole, Lauren, Andrea and all the whole crew.

Fortune’s Garden Slideshow

Fortune's Garden


Vision for the Future:

It is my hope to keep in touch with these amazing people. Folks who would show up this way are people I want to know and hope to keep as lifelong friends. It is my plan to invite them back for garden parties and harvests, and cannings as the garden matures.

It is still a baby garden now. A week after the installation, there was a big storm, with 60-mile-an-hour winds. I thought that we would lose lots of the tender baby plants. The artichokes were razed to the ground. The apple and kiwi were leafless. Amazingly everything grew back.

A couple days after the installation, another delivery of garden mulch arrived in our driveway. Phil and I would have gotten it moved to the back a little at a time ourselves, but Nicole and her son came back the next weekend and help us shovel and wheelbarrow it into the backyard. That was above and beyond expectation, but then the whole project is.

Our granddaughter is a toddler now. We go outside almost every morning with her to play in the garden. She loves it and so do we. This garden adds so much to our lives and will only get better over time. We are so grateful to everyone involved. We named our garden Fortunes Garden and we really can’t believe our good fortune.

Thank you Nicole and Sustainable Solano for this life-changing experience.