Real Estate

From palatial to playful

Gamble Garden spring tour inspires gardeners with a range of designs

Peering through the tall arched wrought-iron garden gate, one gets a glimpse of a hedge-defined parterre garden room, a seating area with Luyten-style benches, and a path leading up to a fountain before broad limestone front steps.

The formal entry sets the tone for the Hanna's Crescent Park home, one of five gardens included on this year's Gamble Garden Spring Tour on April 29 and 30. The theme this year is "Outdoor Living in Palo Alto -- Fine Landscape Design for California Lifestyles."

Working with Los Altos-based landscape designer Ken Schoppet, Barbara and John Hanna evolved their 1926 Birge Clark-designed Mediterranean home to a more formal, Italianate feel.

Today, buff-colored limestone replaces the old brick and aggregate pathways. Five more trees were added to the original six graceful Maytens, which remind Barbara Hanna of her Southern roots.

"I have so many gardening books that are tagged in my house," she said, which kicked off design discussions with Schoppet. "He's the most generous spirit. He gave me what I wanted," she added.

Tucked into the various hedge-defined garden spaces are hydrangeas, roses, camellias and dogwoods.

But Hanna's garden is constantly evolving. "We're working on a gardenia hedge in front. It will be so fragrant," she said.

And, over the gate into the back yard is a Fourth of July rose, along with two types of clematis. A nascent fern garden is taking form. Hydrangeas and iris are mixed in with buff-colored roses.

Whimsical touches contrast with the more formal design throughout. Following the side path, one encounters a marble statue of "Spring," complete with a basket of carved roses, followed by two Italian putti (sort of wingless cherubs) holding baskets. Elsewhere in the back garden there are stone statues -- including a putto riding a stylized dolphin -- urns, carved animals, a deer topiary, even a memorial monument dedicated to their 23-year-old cat, aptly named Chievous, without the "mis" since he was male. Much of the statuary is lit at night and can be viewed from rooms in the house.

The Hannas didn't touch the original pool, which is reminiscent of San Simeon with its blue and gold Murano glass tiles. Hanna said she warned her husband her goal was to bring the house up to the level of the pool.

All the hardscape surrounding the pool is new, including patios, fireplace, a pavilion for outdoor dining and a series of free-standing Roman arches. Hanna credits Justin Iles, a stone carver from Carmel Valley, with the pillars and fireplaces.

Around the edges of the back yard are a multitude of fruit trees, including two pear, two apple, as well as a fig, apricot and cherry. Lemons and limes are grown in containers, and blooming rosemary is under-planted with sky-blue Lubelia, each echoing the blue of the pool tiles.

A relatively new crepe myrtle replaced a Japanese maple, lost to a root fungus, located under a blooming cherry tree.

The hot tub beyond the pool features a waterfall; it is surrounded by Cecile Brunner roses, expected to bloom near tour day. On one side is a large white tree rose, John F. Kennedy, balanced by white clematis climbing on a double-helix frame on the other.

The plantings, including catmint, aka catnip, spill over the ledges, softening the hardscape that covers much of the back yard.

Beyond the pavilion is a path and gate leading to the guesthouse with its own private garden, a sitting area and plenty of containers. An apple tree that's clearly dead on one side still bears fruit on the other. The "dead" side supports a rose arbor.

When digging up the garden, workers found three buried terra-cotta statues; these were made into a fountain.

Tour goers continue down the side of the house, with its jasmine-lined fence, emerging at the porte cochere, reminiscent of an old carriage entrance.

Four other gardens will be included on the tour, as well as Gamble Garden itself. Festivities include plant sales, a boutique with home and garden goods, gently used treasures offered in an "Over the Garden Fence" shop, plein-air painting, live music, a silent auction and raffle, and refreshments.

What: 26th Annual Spring Tour

When: Friday and Saturday, April 29 and 30, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Five gardens in Crescent Park and Old Palo Alto

Tickets: $30 for members, $35 for nonmembers; $45 on tour days; lunch, $15, ordered by April 15

Info: 650-329-1356 or Gamble Garden

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