Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
April, 2005
Regional Report

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Gamble Garden Center's well-tended Working Garden. The high, raised bed is visible on the right.

Public Gardens

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the impressive Elizabeth Gamble Garden Center in Palo Alto. Mrs. Gamble, heiress to the Proctor and Gamble fortune, left the 2.3-acre property to the city of Palo Alto after her death in 1981. The house and garden have been open to the public since 1985 as a horticultural center for people of all ages. The garden is utilized as a learning center for horticultural skills through education, observation, and participation. The amazing thing about the Gamble Garden is that it works.

For example; there are two, very successful children's programs that work with local schools to match third graders with local senior citizens -- a win/win situation for all. The kids are planting and learning from expert gardeners every Thursday, rain or shine, while the seniors are able to enjoy the energy and enthusiasm of neophyte gardeners.

Gamble Gardens also has an excellent horticultural library that is available to the public and, if you can't find your answer in the extensive library, there is also a U.C. Cooperative Extension Master Gardener program that hosts a hotline every Friday from 1 to 4 p.m.

The most amazing of all the programs is the huge volunteer staff that works under the supervision of the resident horticulturist on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Last year the 400 volunteers logged over 28,000 hours of labor. No wonder the garden looks so good.

Garden Features
Gamble Garden has the appearance of a well-loved garden. The grounds are divided into three main areas; the shady woodland garden; the formal garden, which includes the rose garden and the weeping cherry grotto, and a working garden, which consists of rectangular beds of perennials, annuals, vegetables, and espaliered fruit trees. There are also the down-and-dirty areas, such as the potting shed, the greenhouse and the tool room.

In the working garden, there is a very high raised bed that's wheelchair accessible. Handicapped people can enjoy the healing power of nature while they spend an hour or two gardening in the warm sunshine.

Special care is given to the many specimen plants on the property. There is a row of wisteria that are coming to the end of their lives. Every consideration is given to these old vines to extend their lives as long as possible. It was determined that excess water from the nearby lawn was contributing to root rot, so the lawn has been put on restricted water rationing. Lawns are easy to come by, ancient gnarled wisteria vines are not.

Another example of special care is the new plantings under the native oaks. Only plants that will withstand summer drought have been planted beneath their spreading canopy.

Gamble Garden also is used to test new tools and techniques. The horticultural staff has recently installed a Weather Watch irrigation system that is connected by satellite to regulate and monitor water usage on the property. With water prices going through the roof in California, what they learn at Gamble will be of value to gardeners all over the state.

Gamble Garden is available for weddings and such, but the most amazing thing to me is how the community has come together to preserve and honor this beautiful property in the heart of the city. I think Mrs. Gamble would be very pleased to know how her legacy is being utilized by the City of Palo Alto.

There are many public gardens throughout Northern California. They provide the community with a place to gather, learn, celebrate important occasions, and just enjoy time outdoors in the garden. Spring is a wonderful time to visit them.

Gamble Garden Center is located at 1431 Waverly Street at the corner of Embarcadero in Palo Alto, CA.

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