When we first returned to California in 2008, my husband maintained an office in South San Francisco and frequently worked several days a month at Stanford University Hospital. Being more a Southern California girl than a Northern California one I took advantage of his time there to tag along and explore the South Bay in search of public garden adventures and good plant shopping. On one of my first days in Palo Alto, I stumbled on the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden which to this day remains one of of my favorite garden go-tos. On that same day, needing a place to kill a little time before picking David up at the hospital, I stopped by the Stanford Shopping Center to get a cold drink and sit a bit.
The Stanford Shopping Center is an open-air shopping and dining experience just minutes from the Stanford campus. It is home to some of the most luxurious raised bed and potted plantings I have ever seen. On my visit that day I never even opened the door to any of the 100+ stores–I spent my entire time there walking the wide promenades filled with comfortable cushioned sofas, chairs and glorious blooms. Massive pots were home to small scale trees, hydrangeas, camellias, dahlias and companion plantings and acted as screens and focal points. The raised beds in both sun and total shade were filled with annuals and perennials to complement the bed’s evergreen year round plant material. Since that day, every time I am in Palo Alto I spend some time in this outdoor center–often taking a book or my laptop and finding a shady spot to relax and people (and plant) watch.
Not long ago I heard a life altering rumor that the Stanford Shopping Center had redesigned their plantings in response to California’s continued water issues and all was now native grasses and drought tolerant selections. Booo…even in my understanding of their civic mindedness I was in mourning. After all, I cannot keep a hydrangea alive–much less grow them 8-10 feet tall and wide in pots larger than jetted tubs–but at least I could revel in them beautifully combined with roses, impatiens and violas for a little while with a visit to the SSC. Last week on my monthly South Bay trip for my Filoli day I went up a day early and had an afternoon to fill. I downed a protein shake for strength, gritted my teeth, grabbed my camera and headed to see what havoc the drought had wrought on my beloved garden haven.
I was excited to see that while some of the plantings were less luxurious than in previous years and many of the planters had been converted to more permanent plantings needing less seasonal change-outs–all was not lost! The thirstiest selections were fewer and farther between but no less meticulously maintained as in previous years. Have a look.
SSC has a lovely Williams-Sonoma–this great bottle ‘tree’ is the centerpiece of one side of the store.
Part of the core walkway of the center is in total shade. I especially loved these gorgeous raised beds boasting greens and purples–a great example to refer back to in planning an exciting shade plant combo.
Good to know the earth has not fallen off its axis. There are still beautiful raised beds and planters to delight the gardeners who may have the need to actually shop for something other than new plants. Palo Alto’s temperate climate allows these plant displays to endure for months on end. Winter, however mild, does come to the South Bay and I think this will be the year I will plan to see what the Stanford Shopping Center offers (horticulturally) for the holiday season. Isn’t it always true that you never really appreciate something until you think you may have lost it? Truly no purchased required to enjoy these fruits of someone else’s labor.