From palatial to playful | April 15, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - April 15, 2011

From palatial to playful

Gamble Garden spring tour inspires gardeners with a range of designs

by Carol Blitzer

Peering through the tall arched wrought-iron garden gate, one gets a glimpse of a hedge-defined parterre garden room, a seating area with Luyten-style benches, and a path leading up to a fountain before broad limestone front steps.

The formal entry sets the tone for the Hannas' Crescent Park home, one of five gardens included on this year's Gamble Garden Spring Tour on April 29 and 30. The theme this year is "Outdoor Living in Palo Alto — Fine Landscape Design for California Lifestyles."

Working with Los Altos-based landscape designer Ken Schoppet, Barbara and John Hanna evolved their 1926 Birge Clark-designed Mediterranean home to a more formal, Italianate feel.

Today, buff-colored limestone replaces the old brick and aggregate pathways. Five more trees were added to the original six graceful Maytens, which remind Barbara Hanna of her Southern roots.

"I have so many gardening books that are tagged in my house," she said, which kicked off design discussions with Schoppet. "He's the most generous spirit. He gave me what I wanted," she added.

Tucked into the various hedge-defined garden spaces are hydrangeas, roses, camellias and dogwoods.

But Hanna's garden is constantly evolving. "We're working on a gardenia hedge in front. It will be so fragrant," she said.

And, over the gate into the back yard is a Fourth of July rose, along with two types of clematis. A nascent fern garden is taking form. Hydrangeas and iris are mixed in with buff-colored roses.

Whimsical touches contrast with the more formal design throughout. Following the side path, one encounters a marble statue of "Spring" or "Summer," complete with a basket of carved roses, followed by two Italian putti (sort of wingless cherubs) holding baskets. Elsewhere in the back garden there are stone statues — including a putto riding a stylized dolphin — urns, carved animals, a deer topiary, even a memorial monument dedicated to their 23-year-old cat, aptly named Chievous, without the "mis" since he was male. Much of the statuary is lit at night and can be viewed from rooms in the house.

The Hannas didn't touch the original pool, which is reminiscent of San Simeon with its blue and gold Murano glass tiles. Hanna said she warned her husband her goal was to bring the house up to the level of the pool.

All the hardscape surrounding the pool is new, including patios, fireplace, a pavilion for outdoor dining and a series of free-standing Roman arches. Hanna credits Justin Iles, a stone carver from Carmel Valley, with the pillars and fireplaces.

Around the edges of the back yard are a multitude of fruit trees, including two pear, two apple, as well as a fig, apricot and cherry. Lemons and limes are grown in containers, and blooming rosemary is under-planted with sky-blue Lubelia, each echoing the blue of the pool tiles.

A relatively new crepe myrtle replaced a Japanese maple, lost to a root fungus, located under a blooming cherry tree.

The hot tub beyond the pool features a waterfall; it is surrounded by Cecile Brunner roses, expected to bloom near tour day. On one side is a large white tree rose, John F. Kennedy, balanced by white clematis climbing on a double-helix frame on the other.

The plantings, including catmint, aka catnip, spill over the ledges, softening the hardscape that covers much of the back yard.

Beyond the pavilion is a path and gate leading to the guesthouse, where Hanna's 90-year-old mother lives. She has her own private garden, with a sitting area and plenty of containers. An apple tree that's clearly dead on one side still bears fruit on the other. The "dead" side supports a rose arbor.

"My mom can just throw out a plant and it will thrive," Hanna said. "I'm a better planner than a digger."

When digging up the garden, workers found three buried terra-cotta statues; these were made into a fountain.

Tour goers continue down the side of the house, with its jasmine-lined fence, emerging at the porte cochere, reminiscent of an old carriage entrance.

Four other gardens will be included on the tour, as well as Gamble Garden itself. Festivities include plant sales, a boutique with home and garden goods, gently used treasures offered in an "Over the Garden Fence" shop, plein-air painting, live music, a silent auction and raffle, and refreshments.


For more Home and Real Estate news, visit

What: 26th Annual Spring Tour

When: Friday and Saturday, April 29 and 30, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Five gardens in Crescent Park and Old Palo Alto

Tickets: $30 for members, $35 for nonmembers; $45 on tour days; lunch, $15, ordered by April 15

Info: 650-329-1356 or

Associate Editor Carol Blitzer can be e-mailed at


There are no comments yet for this post

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Choose a category: *

Since this is the first comment on this story a new topic will also be started in Town Square! Please choose a category that best describes this story.

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields


Save $5 when you register by Monday, July 31

Registration is now open for the 33rd annual Palo Alto Weekly Moonlight Run and Walk. This family-friendly event which benefits local nonprofits serving kids and families will take place on Friday, Oct. 6 at the Palo Alto Baylands.

Register Here