Spring Tour 2019 Sneak Peek: A Feast For the Senses

Gamble Garden Spring Tour 2019, photo by Nadine Priestly

Gamble Garden’s Spring Tour will be held on April 26 & 27, 2019. Purchase tour tickets to visit this garden and four others: East Meets West, Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication, A Sheep in Palo Alto, Paradise in a Meadow

Page Sanders is the third generation of women in her family to work in the landscaping industry. The sophisticated and exuberant gardens that surround her home reflect this heritage along with a lifetime of garden making. Retired from her work as a landscape designer, she continues to oversee and improve her own beloved home gardens. As with many of the important gardens in Palo Alto, the esthetic influence of the East Coast, where she grew up, is unmistakable in her approach. She plants densely and has assembled a small forest of mostly deciduous trees whose changing dappled light permeates the garden. Greens predominate and the underlying bones of the garden are formal. As the granddaughter of nurserymen and designers, she has an unerring eye for plants that provide year round blooms and create satisfying vignettes and a feast for all the senses.

Sanders originally designed the plantings in front to serve as a demonstration garden for her clients. Hers is not an Asian aesthetic but her entry gardens remind me of the way traditional Japanese gardens aim to recreate nature on a small scale. She has planted a small forest and a flowering meadow that begins at the feet of the copper beech tree, extending past the sidewalk to the street. Hundreds of species tulips have been added to the meadow this year. Stucco walls capped with brick define the space in front and add solidity to the roses, cannas, flowering bulbs and perennials that come and go. More recently she has added succulents and Clivia to offer textural contrast and year round interest.

Sanders enjoys flower arranging and loves the color orange, and its predominance is a hallmark of the garden. When I visited her garden in early fall, hot orange roses and coral canna flowers were blooming riotously in the front sunny front border. The cigar plant, with its tiny bright orange and white flowers has reseeded to create a colorful carpet beneath the trees. She recently added succulents, such as the dark hued Aeoniums, that create a year round flower arrangement of the bold sculptural succulents and the airy cigar plants. A large beautifully pruned Rose of Sharon shrub was buried in white blossoms that glowed in the morning shade of the trees. Her artistic pruning of a vitex shrub in the sidewalk extends the plant’s beauty beyond the three or four months of summer bloom. Dusky purple ‘Storm Cloud’ agapanthus and the long blooming Geranium ‘Rozanne’ complement the vibrant orange hues.

Along the driveway Sanders has woven together a tapestry of dark green shrubs with the evergreen Banksia rose, whose thick shaggy limbs call out to be touched. A mural on the garage door inspired by the East Coast beaches she loves has weathered well and pleases her more each year. Grafton the friendly dragon has watched over the driveway since 1990 when he made his debut at the Gamble Garden tour.

After her diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease 13 years ago, Sanders made some changes in the garden to create safer walkways. The old brick walk around her rectangular lawn was removed and a compacted gravel path wide enough for a walker or wheelchair was added. Iron railings minimize worries about falling. A brick fountain presided over by a Korean acolyte sculpture she has named Yoda holds a lotus blossom. Glass balls circulating in the fountain deter raccoons and Green Goddess calla lilies share the stage with the Papyrus growing in the water. The lawn leads to a raised patio from which to dine and enjoy the garden. She chose the kiwi vine and citrus plants nearby because they bear fruit when she’s in town. Many of her plants have been chosen for their scent, such as a viburnum she’s pruned into a semi-espaliered tree against the wall of the house. A Living Easy tree rose is housed in a raised brick planter so it can been seen as she enters the house and to screen views from the neighbor.

Sanders repeated the columns at her front door in the vine draped arbor she designed to separate her garden rooms. She dubs the first room ‘Rib it Rib it ville’. A collection of frogs made in Haiti from oil cans keeps company with a sunbather made of a rusted shovel surrounded by the sculptural face of dark Aeoniums. A curved stone wall reminds her of the gardens in Rhode Island, where she has spent her summers for many years. Her crabapple tree is pruned into the shape of a pagoda and a variegated pittosporum has grown into a small tree that lights up a shady corner. In the back, she grows herbs and flowers for cutting in raised beds. Closer to the house, a teak glider swing near the fountain is a serene perch to enjoy the tranquil sounds of the fountain in the diffused light cast by the evergreen dogwood. As you leave the garden along the driveway, listen for the sound of water from a small fountain behind a curved lattice brick wall on the small covered back porch.