Real Estate

A peek into private gardens

Evergreen garden vignettes take full advantage of summer

The two sand-colored buildings that make up the Schleins' Menlo Park home are cushioned by a lush array of lavender, orange and olive-green vegetation that instantly captures a summery, Mediterranean feel. But while the sea is nowhere to be seen, an interesting island motif emerges in the multi-purpose layout of the sprawling back garden.

"Linda Schlein has a terrific sense of color and composition," says landscape architect Rosemary Wells, who designed the entry courtyard, patios and plantings when the home was first built in 2000. Since the home was expanded by its owners, the garden has evolved into a series of interlinked "outdoor rooms," with each lending itself to a unique purpose. Now the garden is one of a select 300 in 18 states that will be made open to the public over the course of the year as part of the Garden Conservancy's Open Days program.

Visitors on May 7 will be treated to what Wells described as a "3D painting" made up of a series of linked but individually-themed garden snapshots that range in use and d├ęcor. "This layout design is part functional, but also takes advantage of seasonality, creating a series of interesting vignettes that come in and out of bloom," Wells added.

The Schleins bought the main house in 2001, before purchasing the smaller home -- with the same sand coloring, but a more minimalist feel that recalls Santorini with a modern flavor -- next door.

The two gardens were linked by landscape architect Keith Willig, who designed a gravel allee lined with arbutus and a play area, shaded by oaks and decorated with white stone orbs and a number of ornaments. These include wood and bronze sculptures, as well as ceramic vines that dangle from the trees, which were designed by Marcia Donahue. The Berkley-based artist also designed a sculpture that sits in the entry courtyard, placed alongside a fountain that is filled with succulents and surrounded by cannas and brugmansia.

The main house's veranda, overlooking the colorful pool area, is decorated simply with cross-hatched metal sofas and armchairs that surround a clay fire pit and a blue-gray Arabesque coffee table. Along the pool itself is a lush array of yellow, purple and green flora including salvias, abutilons, tall yellow-green grasses, bamboo and pineapple guava trees. Partially shading the adjacent stone path at the edge of the pool is a jacaranda, which while not yet flowering provides a striking impression, tilted with its branches outstretched, as if attempting to dive into the water.

Nearby, behind the two wide lawns that sit adjacent to the home, lies a sprawling, outdoor living area closed off by hedges and accessed through a bamboo beaded curtain. Almost invisible from the patios, this area is shaded by large oaks and features a two-storey tree house built with white-washed wood. Below its small veranda lies a quaint living area featuring two cushioned, wooden armchairs and a sofa, encircling a Mediterranean coffee table with a checkered green and white patter. A cool, near-constant breeze circulates the area, which also features a modern outdoor kitchen.

Continuing past the oblong mini golf course, also shaded by oaks and decorated with short, carved stone benches, is an almost hidden pathway that leads to another -- albeit significantly smaller -- enclave, surrounded by a variety of orange and yellow flowers. At the center of this "garden room" stands a tall wooden sculpture that was originally located in the larger house, but moved outside by the owners, encircled by three wooden tree stumps that act as stools. From here, one can spy almost unnoticed across the lawn to the kitchen patio, or simply enjoy the sound of birds chirping in the tree branches stretched out above.

"For me, there are two components to the design of the garden. The first was the creation of a strong, evergreen backbone with lots of color that is able to retain a presence all year round." This sentiment is echoed by the kitchen veranda that lies between the two buildings, constantly brimming with life thanks to the variety of flowers and vegetables being reared by garden enthusiast Schlein. Potted pumpkins and a plethora of blue, pink and orange flowers ornament the colorfully tiled courtyard, while asparagus, artichokes and tomatoes are being grown in a small uplifted vegetable garden, which is surrounded on one side by tall grasses and bamboo.

"The second has to do with the textures and waves of color that work well with each other," Wells said. Indeed, lining the entire property -- from the pool to the olive trees and California pepper trees in front of the house -- are tall grasses and a lush array of warm reds and deep purples and blues, highlighted throughout by splashes of orange and yellow.

While taking full advantage of the space and promoting a wealth quite unrelated activities, the Schleins' clear vision and consistent plant choice seamlessly blend the variety of summery islets that make up their distinctive rear garden.

What: Garden Conservancy Open Days

Where: two gardens in Menlo Park, one in Atherton

When: Saturday, May 7, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Cost: $5 admission, children under 12 free; tickets purchasable at entrance of each garden

Info: Call 1-888-842-2442 or go to Open Days for addresses of each open garden

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