Springtime in Marin

It’s officially spring and there’s no better way to welcome this season of sweet surprises and abundant beginnings than discovering ten new gardens in two of Marin’s most charming towns.

In Mill Valley, great gardens, interesting interiors and hometown history come together for the Gardens, Art and Architecture Tour XIII on April 26, sponsored by the Outdoor Art Club of Mill Valley. That’s when visitors can step in for a look at five Mill Valley landscaped spaces, including a sun-filled garden of roses and lemons, a European villa with climbing blossoms and bay views, a modern house built around a hundred-year-old cottage, a Japanese garden and an outdoor living area designed with playful abandon.

On May 5, Ross offers up five of its own loveliest idyllic retreats—a sprawling natural habitat, a Japanese-inspired estate, a modern space, a serene landscape and a whimsical terraced garden—in its 11th annual Beyond the Garden Gate Tour.

Leading Bay Area hand surgeon Leonard Gordon may be more widely known for his deftness in the delicate repair of limbs than the garden he designed for his family’s home in Cascade Canyon, but his creativity is apparent in both pursuits.

Here, on nearly two acres notable for harboring Marin’s largest privately owned redwood ring, Gordon has developed an outdoor space that is both functional and playful.
The requisite swimming pool, hot tub, waterfall, guest house and tennis court might be on the checklist of any estate, but do any others have a custom-built tree house, wired for electricity and equipped with a television? This one does. It also has an Alice in Wonderland–style checkerboard path composed of green slate and baby tears leading to the tennis court, inspirational mottoes posted over various entrances and a pair of rare spiraling Aloe polyphylla succulents from South Africa flanking the portico that are mirror images of each other.

This is where the Gordon garden takes a markedly different turn from others, and for him, it’s all about imaginative touches. “I wanted to make it both magical and romantic because romance rules the world and magic allows it to happen,” he says.

He drafted garden plans for a year, trekked to nurseries every weekend, consulted informally with horticulturists, and discussed ideas with friends and noted garden designers Topher Delaney and Andy Cochran. Gordon finally settled on a design that would fulfill his sense of fantasy and fit in with his home, a wood-shingle structure built in 1893 from Sears Roebuck plans.

Although the house has since been modernized and enlarged to 5,000 square feet, the basic structure is still true to the original and will be open to tour-takers. Gordon’s wife, Chandra, collaborated with Sausalito designer artist Mary Lou D’Auray to renovate the home last year. The whimsical, contemporary interior juxtaposed with the classic exterior is the first surprise.

The second surprise is the bold color palette. Celadon, cinnabar and mustard, all inspired by the hues in the French foyer rug, are found in each of the common rooms. “We wanted a cohesive sense of color,” Chandra Gordon says. “Oddly enough, the truly centering color is the black that is seen in virtually every room. Now, I just have the greatest sense of peace in my home. Everywhere I look, my eye is pleased.”

Leonard Gordon’s inspiration for the garden was to create outdoor rooms that mirrored those inside. The outdoor kitchen-and-breakfast space, for example, reflects the geometry of its indoor sibling and is outfitted with a barbecue, refrigerator, ice-maker and sink near an arbor-covered dining table. A rushing waterfall, formed by river stones from Healdsburg and designed by Gordon, adds movement and sound in the adjoining vegetable garden and makes this space one of his favorites.

From the indoor living room, he can see his outdoor living and dining room composed of tall redwoods that surround a dining table, around which his family gathers each year to celebrate Father’s Day. He made the Italian-style stone fossil table himself, carving out a built-in planter that he fills with bonsai, small ferns or begonias. “It’s an elf table,” he says playfully. “I can imagine little hobbits around it.”

In this outdoor universe, Gordon sees the Australian and Tasmanian fern-filled garden as the sitting room and the driveway’s circle of eight espaliered tulip trees and three white dove trees as the foyer.

While masses of banksia roses, Rosa chinensis and climbing hydrangea do cover the tennis-court wall and vie for attention with the arbors of Cecile Bruner roses, espaliered lemon trees and native iris, it’s primarily “not a garden of color, but rather one with different textures and various shades of greens,” Gordon points out. And that suits the resident leprechaun just fine.

Image 2:  Buddha statue creates a Zenlike pool environment.
Image 3:  Serene pool area with view of Mt. Tam