Spring Tour 2019 Sneak Peek: Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication

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 SensesEast Meets West, A Sheep in Palo Alto, Paradise in a Meadow

Harboring an affinity for Japanese history, art and garden design, the homeowner is a practitioner of ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging that pays special attention to balance, harmony and form. Wanting a new garden for the 120 year old house she bought a few years ago, she brought in the designer and friend she has worked with for many years, Jarrod Baumann. Her wish list included a Moon Gate, an iconic Asian design that has become a beloved trope in gardens around the world. She also wanted her garden to include a Japanese pine and plant material to use in her bouquets.

Baumann says his vision of the garden began with the trees he found during a visit to one of his favorite nurseries. These include a pair of weeping, corkscrew elms that flank the front entry path, with fluid lines and a sinuous shape. Elsewhere in the garden the inky green poetry of a Japanese pine, 40 years in the making, glows jewel-like against the Devonshire cream limestone of the walls that flank the Moon Gate. A dramatic focal point, the gate is made of Ipe, the prized Brazilian walnut hardwood. Nearby a meandering puddle of crushed limestone in the same creamy hue spreads underneath an intricate cut leaf maple which hovers less than a foot above the ground. In Berkeley Baumann commissioned large concrete boulders that are scattered around the Japanese pine and under the redwood trees. Their color reminds me of clotted cream and their silky surface invites touch. The homeowner’s daughter likes to sit on them.

The zipper path to the front door was inspired by an ancient Kyoto garden Baumann visited recently. Its design would be at home in the minimalist modern gardens appearing throughout the Bay area. But Baumann’s choice of Ipe and the Devonshire cream limestone to build the path sounds a softer, more romantic note. Cut in precise rectangles, the limestone is decorated with a subtly beautiful etched groove detail evoking wood grain. The planting scheme in front is restrained without being manicured. Variegated Hakone grass and the variegated form of Dianella are massed in front, their leaves striped in shade of white, cream and green that animate the restrained color palette of the garden. The moss so typical in moist Japanese landscapes is replaced in this garden with an Australian astroturf from Annie’s Annuals. A new dwarf form of Gingko trees with vibrant fall color grows alongside the front porch.

The influence of Japanese garden design permeates the gardens that surround this home. For the water wall, Baumann thought it would be interesting to introduce a more modern note and he was inspired by the work of Carlos Scarpa, a Venetian architect. The labyrinth-inspired accent on the gate is made from poured bronze. Gold leaf overlaid behind it glows when illuminated at night. Nearby a beautiful Ipe screen that hides garden equipment along the house is based on a traditional Japanese fan design.

Along the back driveway fragrant daphne grows at the feet of espaliered apple, plum and pomegranate trees. Inside the gate is a quiet space with a rectangular lawn surrounded by a mostly green wall of plants. Along the house is a hedge of closely planted flowering cherry trees, another nursery discovery Baumann couldn’t resist. A row of white quince is a prized material for late winter flower arrangements. Baumann notes that the the vertical bronze sculptures of bamboo stalks around the lawn evoke Inari shrines. Porches on two levels at the back of the house are draped in wisteria vines, white above and purple below. The muscular limbs of the vine invite touch as you walk towards the side garden. On the way you pass a small cottage used mostly for flower arranging.

The homeowner did not want her garden to be too manicured or complicated. Her aesthetic is perhaps best summed up by a quote she included in one of our earliest email exchanges. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” — Leonardo da Vinci.