Gather in the garden…

This was a most appropriate theme for the Gamble Garden Spring Tour, held yearly to benefit the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden in Palo Alto, CA! It was a beautiful spring day as my three garden road trip girls and I strolled the five private gardens and the grounds of Miss Gamble’s 1902 home. This beautiful historic property is open to the public daily and exists solely on gifts and membership, receiving no funds from the city, state or other government entity. A small staff and large cadre of volunteers work diligently to keep the garden in peak form for the enjoyment of all. You can find out more about the Gamble Garden and all they have to offer at or check them out on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest.

The Gamble Garden is only a short walk to the Stanford campus and sits on a major road flanked by vibrant residential neighborhoods. Every year I have attended this exceptional tour I leave with the same two lasting impressions: what a diverse architectural and horticultural heritage the neighborhoods represent and how welcoming everyone I encounter is as I walk from garden to garden. 2017 was no exception. It is clear that the neighborhoods embrace and appreciate the Garden in their midst.

Even though only 5 gardens are officially on the tour the walkability of the event gives garden oglers the chance to see many more. I will include pics of my favorites in between the garden descriptions noting them as ON THE WAY.

As our drive was uneventful we arrive about 10 minutes before the gardens opened and decided to walk to the farthest from our parking spot and then work our way back, giving us a chance to see these:


Best front yard veggie garden ever
One of many Spanish bungalows with interesting architectural details



The approach to this garden tells you right up front that there will be a lot to see here! I’ll take help from anyone out there to identify these stately trees bearing huge coral pink inflorescences. As I saw them street side in several places I am sure they are not uncommon to the South Bay area but I could not find anyone who knew even their common name. The detailed stone columns, fence and gate were representative of the attention to detail through the garden.


The charming entrance led us to a diminutive formal front garden. Low boxwood hedging with taller elements at the corners provides year around structure within which seasonal plant materials are featured. The beds are awash with the soft pastels of roses, delphiniums, clematis, gaura and nicotiana. Lush roses climb every available support!

Even the property line fencing was treated as a design element with Ficus benjamina in training along wires highlighting the fence’s cross pieces.


The subtlety of this garden’s palette gives the overall impression of a green and white garden–really reminiscent of many Southern formal gardens.

A narrow side path led us into the expansive back garden which offers multiple areas to relax, entertain and dine.


The garden’s designer, Katsy Swan, softened a very long garage wall by adding a pergola covered with the muted colors of Sally Holmes and Alfred Carriere roses. Little Gem magnolias add height, flanking another spot to relax.


More climbing roses smother a nicely detailed pergola that anchors a corner of the home’s back patio and provides an affirmation of the garden’s aesthetic as you exit through it to the driveway.


My take away from the Santa Rita Avenue garden–the use of consistent plant materials front and back to establish a year around green infrastructure allows you to play with your bed’s contents to your heart’s desire and gives the garden interest in every season. Pay as much attention to the details as you do to the big picture!


The walled garden of the home directly across the street was created by the same designer and the owners were gracious enough to allow tour goers to walk through their beautiful landscape. The continuity of plant material throughout was very pleasing. This garden also had a well thought out green infrastructure around which a succession of seasonal bloom evolved. The palette was muted and very pleasing with the creamy stucco of the home.



The street side of the wall sported predominantly green and white plants. I loved the interplay of the alliums with their round heads and the spiky foxgloves.


The front porch was flanked by these gorgeous Viburnum plicatum tomentosum ‘Mariesii’ ,whose natural form creates this layered look. Background right you see Magnolia ‘Little Gem’. Foreground shaped boxwood and some left n a rounder, more natural form and a hydrangea yet to bloom. Take a look at the viburnum’s bloom in more detail below.


This tree was a single specimen anchoring the home’s corner as you exited the walled garden onto the driveway. The flowers look similar to a dogwood but the foliage seems wrong to me–I am really not sure. I took several photos of the bloom in various stages and will check it out with my Filoli teacher later this week. Thoughts anyone?


My take away from this bonus garden–you cannot go wrong with green and white!


A lot going on but it all worked together–great bold fence
Beautiful entrance


This formal garden was inspired by Colonial Williamsburg and includes traditional Southern elements throughout. The small front formal garden is a study in green and white and so heavily shaded by mature crape myrtle trees that it was a challenge to photograph.

GG17 Tennyson1

The VERY narrow side path leading to the back garden was full of interesting plants including Hydrangea petiolaris (climbing hydrangea) rambling up the chimney. Enclosure was provided by ivy carefully trained on a wood and wire structure and there were eye catching elements all along the walk.

The back garden entrance took us through a formal boxwood parterre of Japanese boxwood with English boxwood corner elements. The boxwood were quite tall and enclosed beds of Iceberg roses and camellias. While I liked the concept of this formal area leading you to the more open lawn area I found the paths to be uncomfortably narrow and imagined that pruning the roses closely surrounded by thigh high boxwood would be a challenge!


I can totally see myself sitting on this petite patio enjoying the summer afternoon as the scent of the wisteria envelopes me!

My take away from the Tennyson Avenue garden–think twice about scale and always allow enough room to move around your garden so you and your visitors can enjoy every element.


Who doesn’t look a great looking gable? I know there must have been an incredible garden behind this beautiful gabled gate.

Not enough words to describe this lovely home and garden




Fun and flowers characterize this 1926 Spanish bungalow. The front lawn has been replaced with a Mediterranean feel paver sidewalk and an interesting collection of perennials and small scale shrubs. An sculptured olive tree anchors the corner and along the walk you will find Geranium ‘Rozanne’, echinacea, penstemon, euphorbia and Shasta daisy. Behind the violet flowers of ‘Rozanne’ you can see an young ‘Wonderful’ pomegranate which provides both flowers and fruit.


The tiny back garden had a wide variety of plants, large and small, and lots of found and upcycled garden art. I love this weather vane made from a garden rake!

My take away from the Castilleja Avenue garden–it’s your garden so have a good time with it! While I love the cool serenity of the green and white gardens with touches of muted pastels, this garden probably suits my plant collector style more.


This ultra modern home provides contrast and diversity–the minimal landscape is perfectly suited


Beautiful details on a compact facade


So many interesting thing to tell about this home and garden. Melville Avenue is part of the Professorville Historic District, one of four historic districts in Palo Alto. The homes in this district were built by Stanford faculty starting in the 1890s on lots which were originally part of Leyland Stanford’s farm. You can find out more about this unique district on the Palo Alto Stanford Heritage webpage This stately Victorian was purchased by the current owners in 2011 and was moved 100 feet forward in an extensive remodel to provide space for more back gardens, a guesthouse and a pool.


There are both formal and informal spaces, private and public spaces. The formal areas are characterized by classic bluestone paths and boxwood hedges. A working area for potting up and storage is adjacent to an area devoted to the family chickens. Raised beds and espaliered fruit trees are tended by the owner’s daughter. As you leave these service areas you pass this unique espaliered ginkgo.


As you emerge from the path into the more open space of the back yard, the sense of enclosure and borrowed landscape is tremendous. Groupings of mature conifers, evergreens and hardwoods form a backdrop for the new guesthouse and pool.


The deep side beds which flow the entire depth of the lot are massed with mature trees and large scale shrubs. This is not a garden packed with color but it a very livable garden for both adults and children and a garden that would not have to be meticulously tended everyday to retain its naturalized beauty.

GG17Melville 7

Extensive patio space at the home’s rear (right off the kitchen) is clearly the heart of this yard and is a fabulous entertaining space for family and friends–great wedding location, too!


Everywhere you look there are places to gather in this garden! I could sit on this side front porch all day long and just let the world pass by.


My take away from the Melville Avenue garden–use a large garden space to suit your own needs incorporating features for both children and adults. Keep it simple by layering masses of large scale evergreen and deciduous shrubs. Not all gardens have to overflow with color. Even though very large, I would call this the most low maintenance garden seen today.


Gambrel roofed stone cottage–one of several still blooming cherry trees we saw today


These homeowners have spent 40 years getting their estate garden just right. A series of four garden rooms, each unique in feel, take you all the way around the home.


The completely walled garden is entered under this very large scale wisteria covered arbor. The arbor’s shape is repeated in smaller scale in other parts of the garden. The brick front walk is lined with 80 year old rhododendrons, towering camellias and mature azaleas.


A quick right turn at the front door brings us to the first garden room, an English style garden with a profusion of flowers inside boxwood borders. A red leafed Forest Pansy redbud offers dappled shade and roses climb all the walls. Each season will bring new blooms to life and this area is used extensively for cutting.

Rose ‘Polka’

A short walk on the side path ends in a secluded terrace which the family uses for casual dining.  A marvelous sense of enclosure is created by layers of mature trees on both sides of the back property line.


A  Pieris japonica over 15 tall drips with white blooms and there is a small koi pond.

The third garden room sits behind the garage which is more charming than many English cottages! The grassy area is shaded by dogwoods and Japanese maples. A prized tri-color beech, Fagus ‘Tri-color’, was the inspiration for the redesign of this area. You can see its foliage in the upper right of the photo.


Rounding the garage (which is equally wonderful from the new viewpoint) we enter the pool garden which was formerly an orchard. I realize that having made a full circle, we are actually now back in the front yard! This perfect sunny pool spot with narrow perimeter beds and a single original grapefruit tree can be seen from the home’s French doors. An amazing bright yellow vine covered by bees masses one section of wall.

New to me–the tag reads Macfadyena unguis-cati, common names cat’s claw and yellow trumpet vine. This climber can reach 25-40 feet quickly by hooked, clawlike, forked tendrils. The Sunset Western Garden Book calls it a good choice for erosion control on slopes as it puts down roots wherever stems touch the ground.

My take away from the Coleridge Avenue garden–think out of the box and use all your garden space as private space. A walled garden offers you the opportunity to put your pool where the spot is sunniest–in this case, the front yard!

Whew! I am walked out–how about you? It’s a great time to call your friends and set a date to gather in your garden, big or small, formal or informal, perfectly designed and maintained or in need of a bit of TLC. Gardens are for sharing.

2 thoughts on “Gather in the garden…

  1. It is a lovely tour every year. I did not include any pics of the Gamble Garden itself this time because the post was way too long all ready but keep it in mind if you and Steve and ever in the Palo Alto area–just stop by a walk through!


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