Miss Elizabeth Gamble, how does your garden grow? With sweet peas and violas and hybrid irises all in a row.
This remixed nursery rhyme rings true in the flower beds at Gamble Garden in Palo Alto. The grounds teem with new life year-round thanks to nonprofit staff and volunteers, but one bloom opens up a piece of the estate's history the Elizabeth Gamble iris. Named after Miss Gamble herself, this iridescent blue, bearded iris comes to life mid-spring, spreading its slight sweet fragrance around the garden for guests to enjoy.
Miss Gamble, the granddaughter of the co-founder of Procter & Gamble Co., spent most of her adult life in the Gamble house and, in 1971, gave the estate to the City of Palo Alto. After Miss Gamble's death in 1981, the estate was leased to the nonprofit Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden. The nonprofit continues the garden-loving nature and memory of its previous owners by growing the iris from which the nonprofit derives its name and logo.
The hybrid variety with Miss Gamble's name was created by her longtime friend and hybridizer Lois O'Brien, says Vanessa Roach, executive director of Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden. It combines the Blue on Parade, Columbia Blue and Portrait of Larrie varieties to produce the ruffled, blue-tipped blossom, according to The American Iris Society Iris Encyclopedia.
While this hybrid flower is unique, thousands of iris types exist, and hundreds are being created each year, says Mary Collins, San Jose Master Gardener and treasurer of the Clara B. Rees Iris Society. Each iris grows from a rhizome, or thick stem, that can be planted in the late summer through early fall, and will bloom according to its type sometime in the spring, Collins says. The plant thrives on six to eight hours of daily sun and can be planted outside or in at least a 2-gallon pot. Collins says that the plant needs to be kept damp, but that local, average rainfall will sustain the plant just fine throughout the winter. All of these rules apply to the Elizabeth Gamble iris.
Other beardless blooms that grow well in the area include Japanese, Louisiana, Pacific Coast, Siberian or Spuria, according to Collins.
"I like them because they are beautiful," Collins says, "and easy to grow!"
This article appeared in print in the Fall Home + Garden Design 2015 publication.