Real Estate

Palo Alto couple turns wish list for garden into reality through renovation project

Crescent Park home among outdoor living spaces in Gamble Garden Spring Tour

Not long after Sabrina and Laurence Braham moved into their Crescent Park home 10 years ago, Sabrina started developing a wish list of what she'd like to change.

It took awhile, but this year's Gamble Garden Spring Tour, on Friday and Saturday, April 26 and 27 — which features five Palo Alto gardens — will let visitors see how a vast, grassy space can be turned into a series of garden rooms, with plenty of space for child's play, entertaining or just enjoying the California weather.

The garden redo was an adjunct to a major remodel of the 1936 home, which was completed last year. A key piece was creating a way to enter the backyard from the dining room, turning windows into French doors that open onto an expanded brick patio.

Keystones of the backyard space are three huge redwood trees, offering shade under their majestic canopies as well as planting challenges. Landscape designer Dorrit Kingsbury replaced the huge lawn with functional artificial turf.

"It's nice looking, and it doesn't get muddy," Sabrina said. Plus it's great for the three kids, who range from 9 to 13, and the Labradoodle, Brisket.

With those kids in mind, a space was carved out for a pingpong table and another for a trampoline. At one side, they added a 200-square-foot little house, complete with bathroom and sofa bed; right outside is a built-in barbecue.

"The house required a lot of maneuvering. We had to make sure the trees were not impacted," Sabrina said.

Brisket was not left out: Behind the little house is a dog run, with drainage and gravel for days he can't get his long walks in.

Along the other side of the house is another structure, designed to store trash, bikes and extra chairs. Their "good-neighbor" fence includes a cutout to accommodate the neighbor's magnolia tree, as well as built-in trellises.

"We like to entertain and love having the house full in summer and spring out here. We needed places to sit, to spread out," Sabrina added. To enhance that entertaining, they added an outdoor room with seating around a fireplace, as well as heating elements suspended from the ceiling.

Given Sabrina's love of cooking, the new plan also included a row of citrus trees, including an orange and two lemons, in front of the manicured Thuja trees that line the side fence. In the front yard, herbs are planted in two white planter boxes.

Collaborating with Kingsbury, Sabrina expressed her need for structure and texture, with layers of green and not a lot of flowery color. Today, a few hot- and pale-pink camellias thrive under the redwoods, and white tree roses line the entryway.

Defining all those spaces are low boxwood hedges, complemented by ball-shaped topiaries (Kingsbury also managed to relocate a pair of boxwood topiaries — which survived the house remodel — from the front to the side of the house).

The front yard retains a sense of formality, with its boxwood hedges and white tree roses. But, a pair of white Adirondack porch swings softens the front of the house. And then there's the whimsical fiberglass black sheep, which can be seen from the living room.

The Braham's garden is among those that will be showcased during this year's Gamble Garden Spring Tour, which includes everything from places of tranquility and retreat to the exotic and the whimsical.

Other gardens on tour include:

— A Feast for the Senses — sound, smell, sight — was partly originally designed as a demonstration garden for the clients of landscaper/owner Page Sanders. The result: a small forest, year-round blooms, a flowering meadow and more;

— Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication offers pared-down elegance that draws from Japanese garden design, reflecting the homeowner's interest in Ikebana (Jarrod Baumann, designer);

— East Meets West in a Professorville garden designed by the owner, with orchids and bamboo paying homage to the owner's native Vietnam;

— Paradise in a Meadow, inspired by New York City's High Line Garden, featuring 500 plant varieties (team of Kim Raftery, designer; Kevin Raftery, arborist; John Greenlee, grass expert; Larick Alan Hill, architect).

This year's plant sale features specimens grown at Gamble Garden, including bearded and Pacific Coast iris, succulents (some in decorative pots), roses, summer vegetables and herbs. A list of award-winning tomatoes can be found on the website: From the new pollinator garden are yarrows, as well as sages that attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

As in past years, the spring event will include Over the Garden Fence, a sale of donated garden furniture, antiques, china, crystal, linens and more, located in the Carriage House. Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer horticultural questions.

No tickets are required to shop the Marketplace, located on the grounds of Gamble Garden (10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday and Saturday). Vendors range from biscotti and other goodies to textiles and plant-related items. There also will be live music and a silent auction.

Freelance writer Carol Blitzer can be emailed at

What: Enter the Garden — Gamble Garden Spring Tour.

When: Friday and Saturday, April 26 and 27, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Five gardens in Palo Alto, plus Gamble Garden, 1431 Waverley St., Palo Alto.

Cost: $35 general admission, $30 for members and volunteers, $40 day of tour; pre-ordered (by April 19) box lunch tickets are $18 for turkey, ham or vegetarian options from Draeger's Market; limited lunch available on tour days

Info: Register online at or call 650-329-1356.

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