Every year the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden, a historic home and garden in Palo Alto, California hosts a Spring Garden Tour where a few private homes in this exclusive neighborhood open their gardens for public viewing. The tour is open on one Friday and Saturday only in April, and all proceeds from ticket sales go towards the maintenance of the Gamble Garden.
“Gardens are for Living” was the theme of this year’s Gamble Garden Spring Tour of 5 private gardens in this old neighborhood of Palo Alto. These five homes are chosen for their beautiful gardens and original landscape design.
It’s really a neat idea. What a great opportunity to see different home gardens all on one day, and walk away with some ideas for our own gardens. Or even just to admire the beauty in these backyard landscapes. So a few us decided it would be fun to do the tour and spend a morning together in the great outdoors.
The seven of us from all parts of the Bay Area from San Jose to Los Gatos, Cupertino to San Mateo and San Francisco, met at The Gamble Garden which was our meeting point. Here we picked up a map with the locations of all the homes in the Gamble Garden Spring Tour. Before heading out on our walking tour of these private gardens, we grabbed a quick espresso drink courtesy of the Gamble Garden staff.
We covered three gardens on this tour. Each garden was unique, beautiful, and most of all evoked a feeling of relaxation in the gorgeous outdoors. Some interesting observations we made in this unique neighborhood is that quite a few of the homes had their vegetable gardens in their front yard as a showcase rather than in the backyard, which is typical in most gardens. Not only that, each of the vegetable patches we saw were original in design, and even the plant markers were creative.
Our first stop on the tour became our favorite garden and home. The owners here built a modern guest house to accompany their traditional home and garden, both of which are located adjacent to each other. You wouldn’t think such two diametrically opposite homes in design and architecture would work together on the same lot, but it does here! Both the main home and the new home were stunning.
The original home or main house was a gorgeous traditional plantation style home with the most unexpected bright yellow painted wing that was a showstopper.
Pathways from the main house lead to the modern home addition, which is just as spectacuar as its counterpart. A unique feature in the modern home as the tour brochure pointed out is that the kitchen is the first room you enter in the front of the house, with a vegetable garden right in the front yard, too.
A brick sculpture of a chair and table in this unique front yard looked like art pieces, but were actually functional chair and table 🙂 🙂
We spent a lot of time on this property. We just couldn’t get over the originality of the design of these two homes, one traditional and one modern. They were so different yet worked in perfect harmony with each other, the garden being the common thread.
I think our next favorite home was the one with the vibrant red bougainvillea growing with reckless abandon over the front of the home. It was an eye-popping flower show!
The backyard was just as colorful as the bougainvillea in the front. With gorgeous foxgloves and beautiful greenery, this backyard garden evoked a sense of being on vacation. This garden even had a fully stocked outdoor bar with barstools! We were talking amongst ourselves about how we would be quite happy to rent this home for a few days of R&R, and how we could see ourselves relaxing in this cottage style charming garden.
The third home on our tour had a beautiful backyard with a wonderful patio, an outdoor kitchen, and a fire pit. Designed with alfresco entertainment in mind, this garden had plenty of places to lounge, along with a stone-seating wall. You could actually picture kids and families hanging out in this inviting garden.
After we toured the third garden, we were ready for lunch. Walking around for more than two hours makes you hungry. Since we had pre-ordered lunch, we headed back to the Gamble Garden. Here in the patio we were able to relax over a delicious lunch of sandwiches, salad and fresh fruit. We decided to skip the other two homes on the garden tour since a few of us had errands and other commitments planned for the rest of the day.
Here are a couple of interesting tidbits that I found out while chatting with the ladies.
Did you know that eucalyptus trees are not native to California? I had no idea. Ever since I moved to the Bay Area I have seeen eucalyptus trees everywhere and I always assumed they were native plants. But they are actually native to Australia. Apparently there is a public debate going on right now in Pacifica, California on whether these trees should be removed, as they pose a fire hazard in this densely populated area. Eucalyptus trees are more flammable than redwoods, and produce more fuel than fire-resistant native Oaks, especially because they contain high levels of oils in their leaves. This was evident during the Oakland hills firestorm of 1991, where 25 people died and over 5000 homes were destroyed.
According to an Op Ed in SFgate the eucalyptus tree seeds were imported from Australia during the Gold Rush over 50 years ago, and the state grew them by the millions. Pioneer planters and state authorities promoted the eucalyptus plant as a producer of railroad ties, and as a preserver of soil. This left thousands of seedlings to grow wild all over the California coast. With the increase in development and homes being built so close to eucalyptus forests, these trees are now looked at as a fire hazard. In the city of Berkeley they actually have a proposal to remove over 45,000 eucalyptus trees. Here is a link to more information on eucalyptus trees and the dilema cities in California face today. The Great Eucalyptus Debate: A Love/Hate Relationship
On a more positive note, when I relayed the story of these eucalyptus trees to my Dad, he mentioned that in Southern India there are many eucalyptus forests on the hillside towns and villages, and the local people here use the leaves and oil of the eucalyptus leaves to treat wounds and prevent infections. He said they even use the leaves to sooth colds by inhaling the vapors of the leaves over a steam bath. Here is a link to more information on the health benefits of eucalyptus oil 9 Ways Eucalyptus Oil Can Help You
Another interesting tidbit I learnt at this lunch table was about the beautiful Mexican Feather Grass. I found out that it is now classified as an invasive plant here in California. This grass is a very popular ornamental grass used by many home gardeners and landscape designers; we saw this during the garden tour. It’s such a pretty grass, which grows like a delicate fountain. What makes it even more popular is that it is extremely drought tolerant.
But guess what folks? Mexican Feather Grass was recently added to PlantRight’s list of invasive plants in California. It turns out this gorgeous grass produces tens of thousands of seeds, which get dispersed by wind, water/ soil transfer, and by animal droppings as well. The seeds can linger for more than four years and the plant easily self-sows in our California climate. You know what this means? It means that this pretty Mexican Feather Grass is capable of overcoming native plants and native animal species once it becomes established. This is the reason it has been added to the invasive plants list. For more information on Mexican Feather Grass check out this link from the UC Master Gardener Program Mexican Feather Grass: Invasive Beauty can be Deceiving
If you are wondering how it ended up in California, what I found out is that Mexican Feather Grass in native to New Mexico, Texas, and Argentina. It was probably brought to California during the drought years as an option for drought tolerant plants. The grass prefers dry, temperate climate and in places like Texas and Argentina it grows wild in open woodlands and prairies. And in areas where there are cattle, it grows in abundance because it self-seeds prolifically which is helped by the cattle grazing.
Here is another area where Mexican Feather Grass is considered invasive, in South Africa. Here it has been declared a pest where it is invading mountain grassland and transforming the landscape. It has also naturalized in New Zealand.
Interestingly, in Argentina, where Mexican Feather Grass is native, it has been classified as a plant that can become dominant in the landscape. If you want to read more about this grass and how it is transforming the terrain all over the world, take a look at this Australian based web site Queensland, Pest Plant Risk Assessment: Mexican Feather Grass.
We had a great time at The Gamble Garden Spring Tour. It was a wonderful way to spend a Friday morning with good friends who enjoy gardening 🙂 And we got our workout for the day too 🙂
The Gamble Garden Spring Tour occurs every year in April. Take a look at the Gamble Garden web site for information on events, classes, and next year’s Spring Tour dates. Gamble Garden Web Site.