Good enough to eat | April 20, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - April 20, 2012

Good enough to eat

Gamble Garden's spring tour offers 'gardens full of life'

by Carol Blitzer

Color all year 'round, a play area for small kids, plenty of edibles, as well as the protection of the towering oaks — these were the challenges of landscape designer Betty Lee of Topiary Design, Palo Alto.

Lee's solutions for the pie-shaped, corner lot in Crescent Park — dubbed "Cape Cod Corner" — can be viewed on the Gamble Garden Spring Tour on April 27 and 28. With a theme of "Gardens Full of Life!," the tour will include five homes in Palo Alto, along with the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden Center itself.

At the core of this year's theme is an emphasis on edible gardens, Lee said. Delectable treats appear throughout the landscape — from the Fukushu kumquat in front to the Calamondin orange tree in back.

The actual vegetable garden was set in a circle at the point of the triangular space, with various herbs, three kinds of apple trees, a pear tree, tomatoes and sugar snap peas growing up trellises, five kinds of mint (including pineapple and apple), blueberries, strawberries, kiwi and a "gi-normous artichoke," Lee pointed out.

A small amount of meadow rue was added to discourage neighborhood cats from using the spot as kitty litter, she laughed.

Very little of the original landscape remains, other than the large oaks, wild plums and the brick walkway leading up to the front door. Lee added a modern version of a white picket fence to the front, with plantings that can be viewed from the street and from the living room and kitchen. The owners emphasized a few key things: The yard had to be safe for the children, they wanted the plants to go with the New England feel of the house and they wanted easy-care plants.

"They aren't avid gardeners, but they appreciate flowers," Lee said, so she offered a sophisticated palette of roses, penstemon, clematis, lamb's ears and variegated-leaf irises in front — mostly perennials that will bloom throughout the year.

Close to the house the planting is more formal, with a variety of white-bloomers: dogwood, lilac, roses, Shasta daisies and Japanese anemone. At the front door are a pair of whimsical urns filled with succulents — what Lee calls a "punctuation of California."

Special care was taken to add decomposed-granite, permeable hardscape under the oaks. On one side is a modified bocce-ball court, with a granite bench for watching.

Through a gate one continues to the main part of the landscape, which maximizes use of the corner lot with a curved grassy area for child's play, the vegetable garden, a re-used brick patio set in sand and a seating area off the family room/kitchen.

"This is an updated version of a traditional garden," Lee said, pointing to the quatrefoil-shaped ceramic planters next to the curved wicker sofa.

A high fence lined with pittosporum on one side and roses, hydrangeas, day lilies and red maple trees on the other screens the yard from the street.

Walking along the fence one encounters wire for training grapes.

Under another large oak in back is more permeable hardscape, with an eating area on one side, and a sandbox lined with stones on the other. A few oak-friendly plants such as Western ferns and flowering currant line the perimeter.

"It's hard to plant under an oak," Lee said, noting that it's important not to overwater the nearby area.

Across the driveway, made of pavers set in sand, is a cottage that's attached to the garage. The yard also features a triangle with a variegated-leaf dogwood as its focal point that contrasts with the forest-green ivy along the fence. Lee chose a French blue metal café table and chairs, which pops from the landscaping, she said.

The garden is lush with foxgloves, hydrangeas, columbines, violets and azaleas, as well as a Santa Rosa plum.

Everywhere one walks in this garden there's a touch of color, no matter what time of year. While the bulbs are finished, there's still plenty to see of the red, white and pink camellias or even the bluebells.

The corner lot has two distinct planting areas between sidewalk and streets. The wider one features chartreuse flowers, a grouping of grasses and dwarf shrub pittosporum, while the narrow one is full of Santa Barbara daisies that bloom 10 months of the year, Lee said. A drip irrigation system offers the little water they need.

Four other gardens will be included on the tour, including:

* * Form and Function, designed in 2000 by Rosalind Creasy, author of "Edible Landscaping"

* * Earthly Delights, designed by Arterra Landscape Architects

* * Doubly Inspired, two adjoining properties designed by Paula Blanchard

* * Urban Farmland, designed by Katsy Swan

In addition to the gardens, the Spring Tour includes live music at Gamble Garden, as well as a pre-ordered lunch by Jesse Cool.


For more Home and Real Estate news, visit

What: Gamble Garden Spring Tour

When: Friday and Saturday, April 27 and 28, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Five gardens in Palo Alto plus the Gamble Garden Center

Cost: Advance tickets (until 2 p.m. April 26): $35 nonmembers, $30 members (discounts for volunteers); day of tour $45; lunch (order by 2 p.m. April 23) is $15

Info: 650-329-1356 or

Associate Editor Carol Blitzer can be emailed at


There are no comments yet for this post