A walk through Joan Sanders’ Garden

On May 23rd members enjoyed a tour of a private garden at an Atherton, CA home. Incoming Board President Joan Sanders opened her home to Gamble Garden members, who spent a delightful afternoon admiring the landscaping and decor. Members left Joan’s garden feeling refreshed and inspired. “It was well worth the drive from Half Moon Bay,” one member declared. Keep reading for a history, description, and photos of Joan’s garden:

A piece of history

The Sanders home is located in the historic Lindenwood section of Atherton, which was part of the original James C. Flood estate. Mr. Flood made his fortune in the silver bonanza of the Comstock Lode in the 1850’s and became one of the country’s wealthiest men. In 1876, he built Linden Towers, a 42-room palace on 674 acres of land. It was the biggest largest mansion on the Peninsula at the time and considered by many to be the most magnificent country home in America. Linden Towers was torn down in 1936 and the original property was subdivided. Today there are approximately 500 houses on the original Flood estate.

Joan and her husband acquired their property in 1970, and almost immediately began making it their own. Their home, a 1946 model ranch, has been renovated several times. Jack Stafford designed the original landscape in 1976. After his death in 1998, subsequent designs were created by Peggy Hinman.

A garden destination

Walking through Joan’s garden is like going on a scavenger hunt. Delightful surprises await visitors at every turn, from stunning plants to lush trees to works of art. Instead of a single expanse of lawn, Joan’s one-acre garden is divided into several areas, including a rose garden, orange allee, vegetable garden, redwood grove, and more. The sections — Joan calls them “destinations” — are connected by a network of meandering gravel paths. Joan recalls telling designer Jack Stafford when they first met to plan her garden, “I want to go somewhere”.

A plant showcase

Joan’s garden showcases a variety of plants. Trees include birch, redbuds, redwoods, deodora cedars, and a variety of maples. Joan’s roses are particularly stunning; the garden has 152 of them, and some of her mature roses are decades old.

Outdoor art

Artwork features prominently throughout the garden. Artist Greg Hawthorne designed the Sun Gate leading to the Bocce Court as well as several large sculptures. Four museum banners hang on each side of Joan’s home, featuring a traditional Japanese brush painting and paintings by Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Mary Cassat. Animal sculptures and garden gazing balls are scattered throughout the garden, breaking up the expanse of green and providing eye candy galore.

Joan Sanders garden Renoir banner

The focal points of Joan’s garden are unmistakable, but there’s more than meets the eye. As they make their way through the garden, visitors must keep their eyes peeled for small objects d’art, nestled into the foliage. Some are so tiny that you might miss them at first glance. One section of the garden, known as Frog Hollow, is filled with collectible frogs given to Joan as gifts from family and friends.

Animal art in Joan Sanders' garden

A place to gather

There are several options for outdoor entertaining: the pergola, Martini Lounge, Flamingo Bar & Grill, and Sunken Garden. They feature chairs, tables, and lounges for guests to gather and relax. In addition, the Bocce Court on the southwest side of the property is the perfect place for a bit of friendly competition on a warm summer evening.

When asked, Joan admits her favorite part of the garden is the view from the patio.

A labor of love

One might think that a battalion of gardeners would be required for such a detail-oriented garden . Nothing could be further from the truth. “Five gardeners come in every Tuesday for twenty minutes, ” Joan says. “I do the rest”. Joan goes out to her garden every single day, hand watering her veggies and giving her garden the care it needs.  For Joan, it’s all a labor of love.  “When I’m in the garden, I can’t imagine paying anyone else to do this!”


More photos of Joan Sanders’ garden. Click on each photo to view full size.