Spring Tour 2019 Sneak Peek: Paradise in a Meadow

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: A Feast for the Senses, East Meets West, Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication, A Sheep in Palo Alto

When this property’s homeowner decided to make some changes in her garden, she assembled a dream team that eventually included landscape designer Kim Raftery (whom the homeowner credits for quarterbacking the lengthy project), her arborist husband Kevin, grass guru John Greenlee, and renowned local architect Larick Alan Hill. Wanting a place to park her car and inspired by her visits to New York City’s High Line, she envisioned a naturalistic garden but also one with a Victorian feel to match the style of  her historic home.  Her team’s collaboration produced a meadow garden that evokes the Elysian Fields,  a stroller’s paradise that seamlessly weaves together 500 plant varieties into a harmonious whole.

The Tibouchinas flanking the home’s entry form a small grove that is aspirational and envy provoking, like none others seen hereabouts. They are also one of only a small group of plants in this garden that are commonly found in local gardens. Along the right border of the entry is a rare and beautiful variety of Cypress named after Greenlee,  who was gleefully planting crocuses during my visit to the garden last fall. Underneath the Tibouchinas is a variety of the commonly grown fortnight lily that vastly outshines the one we all know and is more tolerant of shade.

Greenlee’s vision for the garden reflects the region’s history as an oak savanna. But he also wanted to include plants grown when the house was built, such as Spirea, Weigela and the palms that became a signature plant in Victorian gardens. The specimens in this garden include a variety of Queen palm hybridized to withstand frost. The Giant Burmese honeysuckle and roses climbing up these palms contribute to the exuberant feel throughout the garden. You enter the garden through a metal arbor /tunnel planted thickly with sweet peas and flowering annuals.  Within the meadow, a profusion of flowering trees and shrubs, bamboo, grasses, bulbs and perennials mingle in happy abandon.

The arbor along the back of the garden was designed by renowned local architect Larick Alan Hill, who studied with Birge Clark. The vine and plant draped arbor accommodates both the parking space that launched the garden endeavor and a shady perch from which to enjoy the garden. The elegance and craftsmanship of this structure can also be seen in the antique wrought iron gate and cement bench nearby, which the homeowner purchased at an antique store in Franklin, Tennessee nearly 20 years ago.

The sudden demise of a massive oak tree last year made room in the garden for three Chinese silk floss trees, with bright pink hibiscus-like flowers in the late summer into fall and huge thorns on their trunks. A huge piece of the former oak will be crafted into a place to sit, honoring a much beloved tree that shaded the house for decades. A mature and beautiful Mayten tree behind the house anchors a garden whose path consists of the groundcover Dymondia, chosen to caress the feet of barefoot visitors to the garden. Hence the path is closed to the thousands of visitors on the garden tour, allowing us to enjoy the garden from the old fashioned porch  above.

This view is a testament to the genius of the design, with something new to discover from every vantage point.

The garden extends out to the sidewalk, whose exuberant and extensive planting includes a rare viburnum and a wild Carex on the property that Greenlee researched and officially named Leslie’s parkway sedge.