Still rambling in Palo Alto…

This year’s Gamble Garden Spring Tour is even more walkable than usual–it looks as though all but one of the gardens is an easy stroll from the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden. Three are within a couple of blocks from each other. Taking the docent’s instruction I headed down the alley and around a corner to see my third garden of the day.

SIMPLICITY IS THE ULTIMATE SOPHISTICATION

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This 120 year old cedar shingled residence is home to a minimalist modern Japanese garden commissioned by a homeowner with an affinity for Japanese history, art and garden design. She also is a practitioner of ikebana and wished her garden to have materials to use in her flower arranging. Family friend and garden designer Jarrod Baumann gave her the garden of her dreams including her requested Moon Gate, an iconic Asian design throughout the world.

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The garden gate is flanked by a pair of weeping, corkscrew elms which were just leafing out. A zipper style path of Devonshire cream limestone and Ipe wood planks leads to the front door.

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Miniature gingkoes, Gingko biloba ‘Mariken’ take the role of foundation shrubbery on both sides of the front steps and supply glowing yellow fall color fall. The plantings on either side of the front path are not symmetrical but compliment each other with similar materials in free flowing swathes.

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The planting scheme is restrained without being overly manicured. Areas which would traditionally be moss in Japanese gardens are clothed in a perennial lawn substitute which is labeled Kurapia–botanically it is Lippia nodiflora. A bit of post tour research revealed this not particularly new plant is being trialed and marketed as a drought tolerant lawn replacement. It is a dense ground cover no more than about an inch tall. If allowed to flower it is very attractive to bees. The flowers are sterile and thus does not seed itself. HOWEVER, what is not really covered in the informative Kurapia brochures online is that it is very invasive, spreading rapidly by rooting runners. I planted a single 4″ pot under a tree in a smallish bed and spent 3 years fighting to get rid of it. It will overwhelm any other plant material and run under and over hardscape borders intended to contain it. I reckon this homeowner has it edged regularly. In this garden it was absolutely beautiful but I would caution buyer to beware! The Kurapia is bordered with a black mondo grass and sparkling Hokone grass, Hakonechloa macro ‘Aureola’. The low fencing encasing the front garden echoes the style of the zipper paths.

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The shade of mature redwoods give this front garden which is on a busy corner, a welcome sense of enclosure and beds in dappled shade. Notice the large white concrete boulders which punctuate both sides of the front garden. Their smooth surfaces and pale color mimics the cream of the wall and path stones.

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A magnificent cut-leafed Japanese maple, Acer P. dissectum ‘Sekimori’ stands as a sentinel to the side garden entrance in its stone planter.

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The side yard is anchored by a rectangle lawn surrounded by mostly green plantings. The vertical bronze sculptures of bamboo stalks on both ends of the lawn are meant to evoke Inari shrines.

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Just inside the gate and up against the house is this weeping cherry tree, one of a several used as a hedge, under which is tucked a small garden stool just in case you need a quiet spot to hide!

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The white flowering quince also planted up against the house is prized material for late winter flower arrangements.

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I can’t resist showing you the world’s best looking power meter, almost disappearing into the cedar siding.

Porches on two levels at the back of the house are draped in wisteria–white above and purple below.

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Also planted on the front edge of the arbor is a Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Twisty Baby’, a deciduous, multistemed shrub in the black locust family. It’s contorted form and relatively small size make it an eye-catching patio specimen.

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As we’ve reached the back of the side garden the bronze bamboo and plantings are repeated. They mask a wee potting bench and utility area.

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A narrow Ipe planked path carries us to the opposite of the home. The small cottage ahead is used mostly for flower arranging.

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Adjacent outdoor seating areas, one on a stone surface and the other stepped up on a wooden deck offer plenty of places to visit with friends and a glass of wine. The woven iron sofa and coffee table are massive yet airy–I’m not sure if cushions would usually be in play here.

Pots throughout are kept simple and spare. This large amber colored crystal was an unexpected piece of nature’s own art.

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This designer left no detail undone–you saw the power meter, and now, necessary garden equipment (and possibly AC units?) is hidden behind a beautiful Ipe screen based on a traditional Japanese fan design.

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The Moon Gate leads visitors back into the front garden via another zipper limestone path.

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This sculptural Japanese pine, at least forty years old, anchors the front garden on this side of the house.

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A dwarf red cut-leafed Japanese maple hovers only inches above the ground and seems to float in a sea of crushed limestone. The Kurapia ‘lawn’ and Hakone grass elements tie the front garden’s two side together.

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Leaving the garden I can’t help but take one more glance at the Moon Gate, this time as it’s seen from the front.  This garden is simple and serene without feeling fussed over or complicated–Glee, this one’s for you!

 

 

Another Gamble ramble…

Enter the Garden is the theme for the 34th Annual Gamble Garden Spring Tour. Five homeowners graciously opened their gardens to give garden lovers a peek into Palo Alto’s historic neighborhood surrounding the Gamble Garden and just a short drive from Stanford University. I am an unashamed garden tour junkie and this event is right at the top of my favorites list. The Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden is a precious community resource and is supported solely by memberships and donations, receiving no funding from the city, state, or any other government entity. This annual tour provides valuable funding needed to keep the garden open to the public every day of the year. Please look back at my posts Gather in the garden… and You can Gamble on this spring tour… to learn more about the historic Gamble property and see gardens from the 2017 and 2016 tours.

A SHEEP IN PALO ALTO

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The clean and classic lines of this New England flavored family home are enhanced by the front garden’s simple elegance, featuring formally clipped boxwood hedges and white tree roses.

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Glossy black shutters and sparkling white woodwork play off the warm toned brick porch set in a herringbone pattern. The pair of Adirondack styled swings invite visitors to stay awhile.

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A sunny spot as you enter the side yard offers a place to grow a few veggies. Notice the herringbone brick ‘stepping stones’, carrying the porch floor theme into the back garden.

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The simple black metal gate echoes the home’s shutters and provides privacy for the family’s personal spaces. The coniferous Thuja trees (seen behind the planters above and on either side of the gate) are used as bright green backdrops throughout the garden.

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This black sheep welcomes you to the back garden and was an online find by the owner.

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This side yard provides visitors with their first full height view of the back garden’s small grove of mature redwoods.

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A beautifully appointed outdoor sitting room offers a spot from which to enjoy the garden–the use of herringbone patterned brick is repeated here.

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Artificial turf provides open play space for a busy family and the ability to host large gatherings. The garden’s green and white palette gets a pop of color from the orange mid-century modern chairs tucked in a spot perfect for viewing outdoor ping pong tournaments. Formal boxwood hedges and globes enclosing beds planted with white azaleas, ferns and New Guinea impatiens feel cool and chic with a Southern ambience.

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The redwoods’ trunks and roots dictate the bed elevations and the stair step plantings make the beds feel very full even though a good circle of air space protects each tree’s base. The redwoods have been limbed up to a height of 25 feet. This allows them to provide almost a forest like atmosphere without overwhelming the space. Lights have been woven among the trees and they need to be adjusted every few years to accommodate the trunk’s changing girth.

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Looking back from the grass to the home offers a view of the gorgeous second story deck which spans the width of the home and is outfitted with lounges and greenery in bright white cans.

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The outdoor dining room graces a small brick patio and is partially screened from the neighboring property by Thuja.

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This small guest house was added in a recent remodel and its patio offers space for the outdoor kitchen plus a powder room for guests.

As you exit the back garden by the side yard an out of the way, but easily accessed, nook has been created for the family’s bikes. Even the family dog has a stylish pad, including his own sun screen.

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The small space between the driveway and the property line fence is outfitted in keeping with the home’s formal front garden–including its own Adirondack loungers…

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…and a Little Free Library in case you need a good book while enjoying the garden!

PARADISE IN A MEADOW

I like to start a garden post with a street shot–sort of a curb appeal intro to what the garden is all about. The Palo Alto neighborhood surrounding the Gamble Garden has homes of all styles and sizes set on smallish to moderate sized lots by California semi-urban standards. Real estate here is purchased possibly by the square inch and even a tear down property is priced in the multi-millions. Homes may be very close to the street and shielded from view by walls or hedges. Mansions on huge lots with expansive gardens are rare but very large homes on small lots are not, especially if the current home is not the original one built on the parcel.

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This historic Victorian home (photographed from the neighbor’s front walk) rises above its totally enclosed modern meadow garden inspired by New York City’s High Line, a naturalistic garden established on an unused spur of the city’s elevated train. Check out http://www.thehighline.org if you are not familiar with this unique garden offering trails and a killer NYC view.

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As you enter the shallow but heavily planted area you are greeted by a fawn sized moss topiary grazing on its planted partners. Access to the open meadow is narrow and with a steady line of tour goers it is not possible to even step aside to identify or photograph individual plants.

Mixed plantings of shrubs, perennials, grasses, bulbs and ferns fill this small space, including many plants selected for their popularity in Victorian gardens–such as the Bear’s Breeches in the upper left and the Queen’s palm in the upper right.

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The meadow is reached through a tunnel arbor planted thickly with sweet peas and other flowering annuals. Artistic accents are welcome surprises around each curve.

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Entering the sunny meadow we walk along a single person wide path–a profusion of flowering trees and shrubs, bamboo, grasses, bulbs and perennials mingle in happy abandon.

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The path follows the outside curve of the sunny center allowing us to walk in shade looking back over the meadow to the home’s porch.

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The death of a massive oak last year offered the opportunity to plant two Chinese silk floss trees, one of which you see in front of the group of visitors. The tree’s trunk sports huge thorns and it will bear pink hibiscus like flowers in late summer through fall.

This eye-catching Albuca batteniana is tucked among the path’s green backdrop. This is a rarish South African perennial bulb related to Orthinogalum and will eventually have white starry flowers. The leaves were a yard long and the immature flower stalk rose over my head. I would think it a winner even if it never bloomed!

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This beautiful vine draped arbor along the back of the garden was the space’s standout for me, offering a shady space to relax, dine and enjoy the garden.

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The front half of the arbor has metal roofing in addition to the vines but the back half is open as you can see by the shade lines. Comfy outdoor furniture invites visitors to rest a bit while they admire one of several beautiful flower arrangement made from flowers, branches and foliage cut from the meadow.

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View of the garden from the outdoor seating area under the arbor.

The more shaded end of the arbor is shielded from the street and the home’s parking by a double gate made from the same materials. These gorgeous custom iron handles and latches grace the double gate and adjacent pedestrian gate.

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Looking back from the cobbled parking pad to the gates and arbor–who says functional can’t be also charming?

These first two gardens on the 2019 Gamble Garden Tour could not be more different from one another. The meadow garden, carefully planned and executed, results in a look of wild and natural abandon–anything goes! The classic, clean lines and limited palette of the first offer traditional garden beauty while not limiting the family’s use of the space for parties and play.

With such an inspiring start to this year’s tour I can’t wait to for you to see what’s next. This year I will spread the gardens over a few posts to give you as many photos and details as possible. Keep your eyes open for more gardens coming up soon–right now I am off to the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden’s spring plant sale!!

 

Rethinking Fire…a Fresno Art Museum exhibit

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The Fresno Art Museum has been a well loved fixture in my community for many years, offering multiple exhibits annually and many opportunities for special events and education. The last couple of years, several friends and I have made a point to take in each changing exhibit whether it be sculpture, painting, photography, fiber arts or mixed media. A few hours in the museum followed by a fun lunch is a welcome respite to our normal daily activities.

One of the spring exhibits–Rethinking Fire–really struck a chord with me. It was not only beautiful to look at but also timely and thought-provoking in this era of increasing devastation to California by wildfires.

Multi-media artist Bryan David Griffith came to the pursuit of art full-time after an engineering education and a successful career with an international management consulting firm. He lives and works in the Arizona mountain town of Flagstaff, Arizona. In 2014, after the Slide Fire threatened his home and studio he was invited to study wildfire with scientists from the Southwest Fire Science Consortium and join a project entitled Fires of Change, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts.

In his own words from his Artist Statement for the exhibit Bryan tells us “In Western culture we traditionally view dualities–light and darkness, life and death, forest and fire–as opposing forces in an epic struggle of good vs. evil. We see ourselves as fighting nobly to preserve life and subdue death by taming nature to prevent unpredictable disasters like wildfires.”

Bryan’s art takes the position that these forces are not opposed but rather part of a continuous cycle. He proposes that by keeping fire out of the forest we have disrupted this natural cycle of life and his work seeks to provoke questions; finding solutions we can all work together to achieve.

The works Broken Equilibrium and Reconstruction, both from 2015 form the centerpiece of the exhibit.

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Broken Equilibrium, 2015 and Reconstruction, 2015 both by Bryan David Griffith

Broken Equilibrium portrays both the dense overgrowth of today’s forest and the destruction wrought by today’s wildfires. The trees on the right, also seen below from another angle, came from the Observatory Mesa thinning project. The burned trees on the left of the spiral were salvaged from the Slide and Schultz fires.

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You are invited to enter the sculpture and reflect upon man’s relationship with fire, with the broken natural spiral of life surrounding you.

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A slightly different camera angle reveals Reconstruction in the spiral’s core. An old growth downed tree was sculpted by cutting and burning. It’s puzzle like form references in the artist’s words, “the works of scientists and land managers to piece together an understanding of history and restore climate resilience to forests before ecological disaster and human tragedy unfold.”

The smallest part of the exhibit can be seen in the background of the above pictures and was to me the most moving of the works displayed.

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Each charred leaf in Requiem for Paradise, 2019, represents a life lost in the 2018 Camp Fire–the deadliest wildfire incident in California history in which the town of Paradise was literally burned to the ground.

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The Impermanence of Forests, 2017 by Bryan David Griffith

The artist photographed smoky this scene in a forest near his home and printed the haunting image from film onto silk. The silk’s edge was burned and the small pile of charred remains placed below were collected from the scene where the photo was taken.

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Rebirth, 2017 by Bryan David Griffith

Rebirth was inspired by the regrowth of aspen trees in an area on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon which was severely burned in 2006. The natural life cycle of mixed conifer and aspen forests is that while dense conifers dominate the aspens, lacking sun, no longer thrive. When wildfire destroys the canopy and opens the ground to sun the aspens are quick to regrow from underground roots even though their parent trees have died. Conifers reestablish more slowly as so for a time the aspens dominate.

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The aspen leaves in the piece are coated in encaustic beeswax and the cinders at the base are from the site of the fire. I love the way these leaves produced dancing shadows in the still and somewhat dim room.

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Box & Burn, 2015 by Bryan David Griffith

The title of this work comes directly from a term firefighters use to fight wildfires by using fire. The piece alludes to the suppression of fire from 1910 until present. The forest life cycle is broken and unable to heal. The open space, created by cutting and burning this old growth timber, represents the loss of age old information carried by the hundreds of years old tree.

These art works were meant to make viewers stop and think about how modern culture views fire, attempts to manage forests outside their natural cycle and ultimately reaps the consequences. This is an exhibit you could stop in to see for a few minutes or spend several hours in thoughtful repose on the room’s bench, viewing from all angles and considering the artist’s intent. We hear about the most important issues of climate change and forest management almost every day from scientists and politicians–I was inspired by seeing these challenges through the eyes of an artist.

Please visit http://www.fresnoartmuseum.org for more information about the museum’s current exhibitions and newly reopened gift shop.

A walk in my woods…

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With the first snows of the winter in the forecast for the last week in November and our turkey dinner well settled,  my husband and I headed to the Sierras to do the last tasks to fortify our small cabin outside the south entrance to Yosemite National Park as much as possible for the winter. Unlike many of the cabins in Fish Camp we have central heat and  are able to spend a good bit of time there in the winter months but we must still prepare our deck for the snow slide off the roof, lay in a good supply of wood close in and, when at all possible, get up as much of the autumn leaf fall disposed of before it is covered by snow. The last is mostly to get a jump on clearing the ‘defensible 100 feet’ required by the fire folks once the warm, dry summer sets in. Note to Donald T: in case you are following my blog you can rest easy that we ARE raking our forest floor.

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Our area is prone to fall rainstorms which can produce flash flooding and our cabin happens to sit much lower than the road. Water rushing down the road is directed into a culvert and then into a big metal drainpipe which runs under our driveway and out into what is euphemistically called a ‘seasonal creek’ by real estate agents. The steep slope of our property away from the road then carries it down to an actual creek just below  the property. Last year obstructions in the pipe caused the water to back up in the culvert, jump the bank and virtually wash out our steep, curved, at that time dirt driveway. Fortunately a slight raise in the grade in front of our basement stopped the flow before we became an ark! And our seasonal creek seemed to be mysteriously creeping closer to the cabin…to that end we worked diligently this summer to clear both the culvert and the sub-driveway pipe. A neighbor with a backhoe pushed several years worth of downhill debris up to give us new and well defined culvert on the downhill side of the pipe so we could create a good path for the run-off. A fall afternoon’s worth of collecting rock from around the property and stacking it up resulted in what we have now dubbed El Pequeno Rio Armadillo–the Little Armadillo River, a nod to my husband’s childhood nickname. Having just had the first heavy rains of the fall I was anxious to see how our handiwork had fared and was pleased to see the banks held and the downhill flow of the rushing water was well within bounds of what we’d hoped for!

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Of course, we have a huge tree right in the middle of the flow–earth and stones hopefully stop the water from jumping the bank toward the house
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Looking down from the drain pipe
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Looking back ‘upstream’ from quite far below–the power of moving water from just one large storm has carved this perfect path

With snow on the ground since this visit, the threat of flood has diminished. However, with the spring snowmelt from the high Sierra we will again need to keep a close watch on where the Little Armadillo River wanders.

In the few years we have owned this vacation cabin, my husband’s work/travel schedule has been the determining factor of how much time we are able to spend in the mountains and with so much work to be done to make the 50 year old home habitable we really haven’t spent much mountain time actually having any fun. His 2018 mid-summer retirement has given us more freedom to enjoy the quiet and the beautiful vistas without feeling we need to be ‘getting something done’ every time we are there. With that in mind and Dave doing a little light raking (8 barrels worth) I thought it a perfect time to take a stroll and survey our small piece of the forest.

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I have purposefully left the exposure of these photos unedited. Our land is only about an acre and slopes sharply down from street level with a smallish flat area midway for parking in front of the cabin. Our views up toward the street are always in dappled shade from trees, both conifers and deciduous hardwoods. I will be forever in awe of the huge granite outcroppings and boulders.

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Just below street level 
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This monster is perched on our neighbor’s property high over the creek bed below our property
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Beautiful life decorates the boulders
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Looking uphill from the lowest point of our land
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Our only sunny spot is the meadow (or gully depending on my mood) visible from the back deck–happily inhabited by a great diversity of trees

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Our local utility company is actively trimming or clearing trees too close to power lines. We have several marked to be limbed up but but none marked for removal as this one on the property next to us.

Even in late November there is a lot of plant life to be seen. I am clueless on about 90% of  what is growing here but it is my goal to be able to identify most of what we have in the next few years. The top left photo is one of the manzanita varieties, I think–at least it is growing among a huge thicket of manzanita! In the spring they have small pinkish white flowers so I am not sure about the red blossom. I’ll take gladly take any guesses on the other three!

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I am cautiously proposing white fir on this very young tree. I am amazed at all seedlings we have, especially given the continuing Central California drought conditions–just another example of Mother Nature’s drive to keep her offspring going.

Tree felling required for the installation of larger water tanks just up the road from us resulted in great quantities of wood available for the water company’s customers. We have hauled logs down for various purposes and a neighbor cut up a half dozen nice ones for us to use as seating. Earlier in the year we arrived at the cabin one weekend to find a tree stump about 2 feet high and 48″ across neatly in place beside our wood pile. My husband had mentioned to a neighbor Gene G. that he need a stump on which to split logs and voila! one arrived via our go to heavy equipment neighbor Barry G. It is a fact that mountain people all look out for each other.

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A small ginkgo on the roadside shows its colors

Just across the road from us this wee waterfall has been running for weeks.

The seed pods are from the lily type plant below which I photographed in bloom in July.

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What tales this (cedar?) tree trunk has to tell…

Fish Camp lies a scant 50 miles north of Fresno just outside the southern gate to Yosemite National Park. At about 5200 feet in elevation and an hour’s drive away it is light years away from the hustle and bustle of the hot dry San Joaquin Valley. Although the population sign indicates 500 residents, I am doubtful of the number. We have one large hotel/resort complex, the Tenaya Lodge, but no gas station or restaurants. A small general store offers some staples and a pretty mean sandwich and potato salad when there’s enough traffic into the park to keep it open everyday. If you are ever passing through on Highway 41 to Yosemite at least give us a wave as you go by!

“THE MOUNTAINS ARE CALLING AND I MUST GO”            John Muir