There are few places quite like the woodlands garden that's one of five private gardens featured in this year's Gamble Garden Spring Tour on April 24 and 25.
Three years ago landscape designer Dedra Hauser, of Enchanted Gardens, Palo Alto, began working with the homeowners to transform the water-guzzling garden to one that suits the homeowners' living and entertaining needs.
First to go was the old kidney-shaped pool, then the large backyard lawn and finally the huge hedges, Hauser said.
"It was quite different. We've created beautiful views -- by taking out the hedges," she said.
Many of the trees and larger plantings were retained, but transplanted to a different part of the 1/3-acre property. Among those to go were a large liquidambar and a podocarpus, but several Japanese maples and dogwoods were saved.
While one goal was to use less water, another was to create intimate spaces where the family could throw a party for up to a couple of hundred people, Hauser said.
Today, one steps out of the house onto a Connecticut blue-stone patio, where a brick and stone fireplace serves as the focal point for a seating area. Low brick benches, topped with the blue stone, were strategically built at the edge, offering casual seating when entertaining. Now that the hedges are gone, one can look out from the kitchen to the fireplace area.
Another place to congregate is outside the dining room, which now opens to a patio where one can enjoy the sound of water flowing in a pierced-brick fountain.
"People love to gravitate under the arbor" between the back fence and the long lap pool, Hauser added.
The homeowner is not too fond of blooms, Hauser said, instead preferring the many layers and shades of green that now grace the landscape. Each space has its own character: Near a bench is Mexican orange, which is "beautifully scented and lovely all year," Hauser said. Closer to the house are the more water-intensive plantings, including Japanese boxwood and camellias.
Most of the new plantings require little water, especially once they've become established, she explained.
And they did get rid of the greediest, such as the liquidambar, she said.
Hauser pointed to a particular Japanese maple whose bark is bright coral red in winter but is now lushly covered with green leaves. More color is found in the red geraniums, Fourth of July roses, Brazilian sky flower with its purple flowers and yellow berries -- even in the small kumquat tree filled with orange fruit.
A small lawn in the back offers a spot for the grandchildren to play. It's adjacent to the edibles: pomegranate and lime trees, oregano, chives, mint and thyme.
Along the back wall one can find thriving veitchii Gardenia Aimee Yoshioka (First Love).
Another space was created in front of the new garage; the paved area is now used for everything from playing ping pong to storing recycling and garbage cans.
And at the front the owners removed the hedge that formerly screened the house from the busy street, but conserved the rare Spanish abies as well as a gingko tree. Purple and green loropetalum (in the witch-hazel family) and oak leaf hydrangeas march along the front. Dwarf bottle brush, which needs little water, was planted in the strip between sidewalk and street.
"Gardening is really more about creating an enchanted space. Every time I come here I'm transported," Hauser said, noting that even though the house is located on a relatively busy street, from the garden all one sees are sky and trees.
Other gardens on the tour include:
* a tranquil water garden, complete with water sculpture and a garden showcasing lotus, water lilies, night bloomers and papyrus, as well as koi, kombucha fish and turtles;
* a family garden with hidden surprises, including squirrel- and bird-proof beds and topiaries at the home's entrance;
* a home with a resort-like feel that preserves green space with meadow grass that's cut just twice a year, as well as plenty of sports opportunities;
* a very green home and garden, rebuilt as an eco-friendly version of its original Spanish Colonial Revival style.
In addition to the five private gardens, visitors may tour Gamble Garden itself, where a marketplace with more than 21 vendors and a plant sale will take place. The vendors include SaraBella Upcycled from Bend, Oregon, with recycled purses and totes, and Route One Pumpkins from Half Moon Bay, with handcrafted soaps and organic skin care products. Several locals will also be featured, including first-time participant Yoriko Kishimoto, who will be selling her watercolors; May Chevalier of Cloud9 Orchard, with her olive oils; Judith Content and Deborah Trilling, with paintings, bags and more; and Elizabeth Moon, with jewelry.
The plant sale includes plants propagated by Gamble volunteers, seeds, water-wise plants and some items found on the tour.
Proceeds of the garden tour, including a percentage of the marketplace sales, box lunch and preview party (by invitation only, with donation of $250 or more), benefit the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden, a nonprofit horticultural foundation.
What: Gamble Garden Spring Tour: There Is No Place Like Home
When: Friday and Saturday, April 24 and 25, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Five gardens in Palo Alto, plus Gamble Garden, 1431 Waverley St., Palo Alto
Cost: $35 for nonmembers, $30 for members (through 1 p.m. on April 23); box lunch tickets are $15 (must be ordered by 2 p.m. on April 20)
Info: 650-329-1356 or Gamble Garden