A marvelous weekend morning, warm spring sunshine, chirping birdies building their nests, looks like the warm weather is finally here to stay in the bay area. A perfect day for zipping about in the vintage Benz convertible to tour the Gamble Garden’s Masterful Gardens event. The day yielded some very special gardens; modern and contemporary designed by the famed Conger Moss Guillard firm who recently completed the new roof garden for SFMOMA, and a VV OTT (Very Very Over The Top!), 17th Century style English Garden, a mere 10 years old, but looks as if it has been nesting in the Cotswold’s for centuries. Shakespeare summer readings would be inspiring in the white gardens similar to the Sissinghurst Castle grounds. Got to love the investment culture in Palo Alto, it provides an abundance of gardens designed in first class, luxurious taste.
The best gardens are places to enjoy the glory of nature; traditional English gardens, formal French, harmonious gardens in Japan, India and China. Havens of tranquility, winding tree-lined paths through Hyde Park in London, a horse drawn carriage ride through Central Park or the gardens of Versailles, all inspire and give pause. I’ve listed a few of the VV best. Of course, private tours and picnics can be arranged in most of these locations, let me know your fancy.
Step into Monet’s world when you visit his home garden, which he built beginning in 1883 when he moved there with his family. Seeing Giverny, you understand the inspiration for Monet’s garden and plant paintings. Easy day trip from Paris.
Summer Palace Beijing
Three thousand structures make up the Summer Palace, which is like a vast museum to traditional Chinese art, architecture and gardening. Pavilions, bridges, towers, statues and corridors are included in this figure as well as shrines and larger buildings. The whole environment is carefully designed as a showcase for the intricate beauty of Chinese arts to compliment the equally revered natural environment.
Its Chinese name, YiHeYuan, translates as ‘Garden of Nurtured Harmony’ or ‘Garden for Maintaining Health and Harmony’. A very apt description for the feeling each garden should provide, even a small rooftop garden.
Palace of Versailles Gardens
The sumptuous Hall of Mirrors is haunted by the ghosts of the royal family, from Louis XIII to Louis-Philippe: 250 years of tragedies and fêtes in which the brilliance of the Sun King, Louis XIV, dominated. The gardens are adorned with hundreds of statues spread around some of the most beautiful fountains assembled in one location. Impossible to describe, one must see it to believe the grandeur, as Versailles is the most famous garden in the world. Yet ‘garden’ is scarcely a fitting description, monumental in size, it consists of many different areas. There are immaculate parterres, immense basins, an orangery, a vast collection of outdoor sculpture and grand water features, including a canal. www.chateauversailles.fr/homepage
Crathes Castle Gardens
This garden is one of the best for its clever use of its color schemes. In front of a typically Scottish turreted and rough-hewn pink-granite castle of the Burnett family, dating from 1596, lays a wonderful garden whose monstrous yew hedges were planted in 1702. Scotland. www.nts.org.uk/Property/20/
Returning to its former glory after years of decline, this garden has an incomparable location on the Riviera coast. Dating from the 1860s, the Hanbury brothers designed it; its early planting is now very mature. The paths zigzag down to the sea through jungles of vegetation divided into geographical and botanical groupings, with magnificent specimens at every turn. www.amicihanbury.com
Botanical Gardens in Mauritius
Under it’s full name: the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden is the oldest garden in the Southern Hemisphere; the first plantings of it began in 1770. The name was changed to Sir S.R. in 1988 to honor the man who led the island to independence. The magical ponds of water lilies look large enough to hold a small child, plus long lines of cool palm trees and bright flowers add to the delight in this garden. The lilies are Amazonian, but some of the 85 species of palm are local – the others have come from all over the world. The garden also has a more practical selection of sugar canes and spices and medicinal plants. As far as wildlife goes the garden has formal inhabitants, fish and deer but lots of birds choose to live here.
The French painter Jacques Majorelle built the garden in the 1920’s with marble pools, raised pathways, banana trees, and groves of bamboo, coconut palms and bougainvilleas. Unsurprisingly, as the garden was designed by a painter, the garden is composed and colored like a painting. Many of the buildings were painted in a dark blue, Majorelle Blue, which works very well with the soil, climate and plants. In fact, Majorelle’s garden rather than his paintings was his masterpiece. Water is an important feature of the garden – there are channels, lily-filled ponds and fountains. Marrakech families flock here on Sundays to stroll and sit in the shade of the enormous trees.
Whether they provide a historical record, a cultural overview, or just aesthetic enjoyment, gardens are an essential element to the contentment of life. Gardens provides more than an oasis, they provide a glimpse of local culture.
A special article on pocket size roof top gardens in San Francisco, I’ve visited all of them, an afternoon latte on a hidden rooftop provides unexpected pleasure.
A memorable early morning walk at the Stanford dish the Monday following Thanksgiving, provided me with two new friends. Imagine being deep in conversation with a friend and looking up the hill to see the familiar colors of the red plaid Masai shuka worn by a majestic Maasai Warrior- one would never imagine seeing a nomadic Maasai in traditional full dress regalia in California, let alone at the dish! I was beyond excited, a little prezzie, at a point in my life when I needed an unexpected surprise. Ahead of me was a 6 foot Maasai warrior, wrists wrapped in beaded cuffs, colorful beads dangling from his neck, carrying the traditional rungu, a distinctive ball-ended club, he also had the blood letting knife blade tucked into his shuka.It was my lucky day, Sabore Oyie was visiting from Kenya with a local friend- my friends and clients know I am besotted with Africa and the Maasai; Sabore and his friend Therese came for dinner and I met them several times in his brief fall visit.
Good news, he is returning in a few weeks and I will have more to share on his endeavors and his personal story.