Real Estate

Living on the outside

Gamble Garden's Spring Tour offers ideas for fully enjoying one's landscaping

While their East Coast roots drew them to the traditional Old Palo Alto home in 2003, Rebecca and Marc Friend knew from the start that the garden didn't live up to its Cape Cod design.

"We were in the house about 10 years before we started" changing the garden, Rebecca Friend said. "That gave us a lot of time to think about what we wanted."

With two children now in the picture, they were finally ready to tackle what Friend called "a lot of brick and underutilized space."

The results of their achievement, which took close to nine months to complete while working with Jason Bowman of landscape design/build firm California Horticulture Landscape Construction in Campbell, will be among the five gardens on this year's Gamble Garden Spring Tour on April 29 and 30.

First they had to decide what to keep: obviously, the towering redwood (planted in 1946, according to a neighbor), along with a stand of birch trees in front, a copper beech and two flowering pear trees.

But everything else was fair game.

Today a row of standard gardenia trees and a low boxwood hedge, with layers of Tasman Flax-lily and ground-cover roses, separates the house from the street.

Aiming for clean lines and a better use of space, they also wanted a more welcoming front walkway. They kept quite a bit of the old brick, but used it to outline a wide Connecticut Bluestone entryway. The Bluestone then trimmed the new concrete driveway, which was stained to match the house.

A white trellis at the side incorporates two oval shapes that mimic a window over the front door. Behind that fence is the family's new vegetable garden, with four raised beds above a Kona gold gravel area. Fruit trees abound, from Meyer lemon to espaliered Granny Smith apple. A trellis was added above the side door, along with lots of outdoor lighting, Friend said.

Connecticut Bluestone pavers, set in aggregate, lead the way to the backyard, alongside a covered patio with a black concrete base that complements the driveway.

The new backyard has distinctive functional areas: To the right is a trampoline set over a pit with a mesh fence surrounding it; then a grassy area for play; a dining/entertaining area with an outdoor grill with a Bluestone countertop, dining table and chairs and a seating area; a second small grassy area with a play structure and a storage shed.

A variety of trees line the perimeter fence, including espaliered Satsuma tangerines and hydrangeas. "We put cuttings in the house all year long," Friend said.

Hornbeam and non-fruiting olive trees, which will eventually form a wall, frame the dining area, and roses climb up an arbor over the grill. Rows of gay Tivoli lights are strung across the dining area. "It has a festive, happy feel, like on vacation in Italy," she said.

"We worked in fruit trees wherever we could," she added pointing to the espaliered fig trees behind the grill.

Throughout the garden are black ceramic pots, including a pair at the front of the house, filled with seasonal offerings, as well as more fruit trees (tangerines and limes). Other color is supplied by Pennisetum p. Princess (purple fountain grass), pink camellias and mauve bergenias near the street.

The Friends gained about 10 feet of space by replacing a tall, recessed fence with a short fence and a hedge of English Laurel near the sidewalk of the corner lot.

"We love the house and we wanted the yard to be as beautiful as the house," Friend said. Ultimately, they met all of their goals: to create clean lines, maximize the use of space and have a place to be relaxed and casual, she said.

Other gardens on the tour include:

• a contemporary Western garden with a playful sensibility;

• a lush, tropical, flower-filled landscape;

• a charming zipper sculpture/fence in a Mediterranean setting;

• a series of "rooms," from an evening fire-pit area to a secret loft for the children.

In addition to the garden tour, the weekend event includes "Over the Garden Fence," a sale of "gently used" antiques, home décor, china and linens; Marketplace, with home and garden vendors; a plant sale including hard-to-find species and container gardens; a catered box lunch (with advanced reservations); live music; complimentary coffee drinks, iced tea and cookies prepared by The Garden Club; and horticultural experts from Master Gardeners and Canopy on hand to answer garden questions.


What: Gamble Garden Spring Tour: Gardens Are for Living

When: Friday and Saturday, April 29 and 30, 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 (online through April 27), $40 day of tour; box lunch tickets are $15 (pre-order by April 18, some available day of tours)

Info: 650-329-1356 or

Freelance writer Carol Blitzer can be emailed at

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