Real Estate

A bright light on a cool garden

New book celebrates the positive impact of Gamble Garden

How could Gamble Garden enhance its fundraising efforts while showcasing its value as a community asset?

That was the question four women pondered during a series of informal brainstorming sessions -- beginning eight years ago.

The result is "Gamble Garden: Landscape of Optimism" by Susan Woodman, one of the original brainstormers, along with Susan Benton, Chris Stein and Jane Stocklin.

Woodman, who hadn't done much creative writing since high school, had majored in anthropology and sociology in college, ultimately running her own interior design business. When she closed her firm, she did grant-writing for an educational nonprofit.

"I was just comfortable taking this on," she said.

Woodman has been involved with Gamble Garden for the last decade, originally helping with the display design for the Spring Tour. She lives an easy walk away from the Old Palo Alto garden.

She has helped with the book every step of the way, from asking John Haynes to create the art for the cover and end papers to the writing and gathering of photos. But, she is quick to point to the Acknowledgments, with its list of many of the contributors to the project.

The book begins with a brief history of how Elizabeth F. Gamble, a scion of the Procter & Gamble family, bequeathed her home to the City with minimal guidance or strings attached.

In 1985 the property was launched as a public garden. Today there are 1,250 people who support the garden through annual memberships, and more than 300 volunteers who keep the garden in good shape. The book highlights all that has been accomplished since its founding.

"Writing a history wasn't a good match for me," Woodman said. "I wanted to show that the garden is an active place today and a center of community."

So she decided to present a tour of the garden through the seasons, focusing on the various garden "rooms" -- rose, wisteria and the allée. Each includes plant descriptions and identifications, with help from the botanical editor, Lesley Peters.

"One of the things I learned: I thought there was universal naming of plants. Turns out that's not true. They're ever-changing. Sometimes we use common names and sometimes botanical," Woodman said, giving the example of the Scarlet Oak or Quercus coccinea.

Each chapter begins with a quote.

"I'm a longtime collector of quotes, usually from my own reading," Woodman said. Among her favorites is one by Stanley Kuntz: "The universe is a continuous web. Touch it at any point and the whole web quivers."

"To me that's a very positive part of that poem," she said, a feeling that prompted its inclusion in the book's section on Community Day.

Another chapter focuses on "Tending and Groundskeeping."

"You can't have a garden without gardeners," she laughed. "We don't name names. This is about the collection of people who work here, the community who comes to enjoy the garden and for all kinds of events and classes."

Other than Miss Gamble, she added, no one is identified in the photographs.

The book also includes a section on past Spring Tours, a major source of fundraising for Gamble Garden.

"The photos show the range of gardens we have right here. The book is about the private gardens and about Gamble," Woodman said.

Another section deals with art (and music) in the garden. "People take pictures, paint, and there have been formal events organized around art in the garden," she added.

An important part of the garden's public service is its connection to local schoolchildren, through its Roots & Shoots intergenerational garden. The community garden facility also offers classes, holds monthly luncheons and hosts wedding receptions.

Gamble Garden provides the flowers, which are arranged by members of The Garden Club of Palo Alto, and dropped off at City Hall and other city offices, schools, the police, the VA and more.

There's even a section on flower arranging. "Early on we talked about flower arranging. We looked at books, which quickly become dated because styles change. I wanted a sense of timelessness in the book," Woodman said. "This approach pulled it back to the garden. You don't have to be a flower arranger. You just need pretty flowers, and here's how to make them last longer."

"And you can't be here and not be inspired to have healthy, garden-fresh food. ... Primarily, this is an ornamental garden, but we wanted to spotlight food."

Sprinkled throughout the book are recipes, many utilizing herbs or fruits grown at the garden.

Woodman said she hopes that people from other areas could be inspired by what's been done at Gamble Garden, even if they don't have a benefactor.

"In the introduction, we talk about not everyone having a Miss Gamble. It could be part of a park, or a section with a cutting garden," she said.

"Garden of Optimism" was self-published by Gamble Garden, with 1,200 copies printed in Burlingame, using paper from sustainable forests and vegetable-based ink, Woodman said. The coffee-table-sized, 136-page book contains 200 color photographs. With underwriting by John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn (and Jane and Bill Stocklin), the book is available for $40 at Gamble Garden and through the website.

Lavender Lemonade

(from the garden: lemons and lavender flowers)

1 heaping T. dried lavender flowers

6 lemons

1/4 C. sugar (if desired, add more by tablespoons, to taste)

Pour 1 C. boiling water over lavender flowers.

Meanwhile squeeze lemons, mix with sugar to taste (it will be very strong).

Add at least 3 C. cold water.

Strain lavender tea into the lemonade.


To serve, pour over ice cubes. Makes 3-6 cups.

Associate Editor Carol Blitzer can be emailed at

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2 people like this
Posted by Colette Rudd
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 5, 2014 at 6:06 pm

Thanks for this wonderful overview of Gamble Garden: Landscape of Optimism by Susan Woodman! The garden has become an important part of the community since it was organized as a public garden in 1985.

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