Design a low-water zen garden

How to design a low-water zen garden

In drought times, here are tips on how to create a tranquil, low-water zen garden. (Photo: Sunset/Thomas J. Story)

The marquee exhibit for our 2015 Celebration Weekend event, this tranquil space proves that a yard can still encompass outdoor living even in times of drought. A backyard cottage has a high squeal factor, but that’s not the only reason to build one. For an installation at Sunset’s 2015 Celebration Weekend event, we remodeled a small structure, the kind of place that homeowners all over the West are using as guest cottages or rentals (think extra income and grass-roots housing relief). Around it, we designed a low-water yard where calm reigns—and the lawn isn’t missed.

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Falls here….start cooking!

Short Rib Pot Pie Recipe

Short Rib Pot Pie ~

Servings: 8


  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening or beef lard

filling and assembly

  • 3 pounds boneless beef short ribs, cut into 2” pieces
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour, plus more
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 10-oz. package frozen pearl onions, thawed
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 6 sprigs thyme, plus 2 Tbsp. chopped thyme
  • Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
  • Heavy cream (for brushing)



  • Pulse flour and salt in a food processor; add butter and shortening and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal with a few pea-size pieces of butter remaining. Transfer flour mixture to a large bowl and drizzle with ½ cup ice water. Mix with a fork until dough just comes together.
  • Knead dough lightly, adding more water by the tablespoonful if needed, until no dry spots remain (dough will be slightly shaggy but moist). Form into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic. Chill until firm, at least 2 hours.
  • Do Ahead: Crust can be made 2 days ahead; keep chilled.

filling and assembly

  • Preheat oven to 375°. Season short ribs with kosher salt and pepper; toss with ½ cup flour on a rimmed baking sheet. Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Working in batches, shake excess flour from ribs and cook, turning occasionally, until deeply browned, 8–10 minutes per batch. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a large bowl.
  • Add onions to same pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown; season with kosher salt and pepper and, using a slotted spoon, transfer to a small bowl. Reduce heat to medium, add garlic to pot, and cook, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes.
  • Add tomato paste and cook, stirring often, until slightly darkened in color, 5–8 minutes. Add wine, rosemary, and thyme sprigs, bring to a boil, and cook, scraping up browned bits, until liquid is reduced by half, 8–10 minutes. Add 6 cups water to pot and bring to a boil.
  • Return short ribs to pot; season with kosher salt and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer gently, uncovered, until short ribs are almost falling apart and liquid is thick enough to lightly coat a spoon, 2½–3 hours.
  • Add onions and chopped thyme to pot and stir to break up short ribs; season filling with kosher salt and pepper. Remove herb sprigs.
  • Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to about ⅛” thick. Transfer filling to a shallow 2-qt. baking dish. Place over filling and trim, leaving overhang. Tuck edges under and crimp. Cut a few slits in crust. Brush with cream and sprinkle with sea salt. Alternatively, you can use 8 individual dishes.
  • Place dish on a rimmed baking sheet and bake pot pie until filling is bubbling and crust is golden brown, 50–60 minutes (35–40 minutes for smaller dishes). Let sit 5–10 minutes before serving.