Carol Hamilton is almost apologetic when she welcomes guests to her Lake Wildwood garden in late summer.
“Oh, I wish you could see it in springtime, when everything is in bloom!” she says. And as testimony, she offers them a look at a video of the landscape in its springtime grandeur.
But the absence of carpets of bloom is of little importance. The remaining greenery provides a pleasing background for the sculpture garden.
“I have two gardens,” Carol explains matter-of-factly. “One is for the flowers, the other is for sculpture.”
And the sculpture ranges in impact from “wow” to “whimsy.” An example of “wow” is the jade statue of Buddha the Hamiltons found in a Bay Area warehouse that deals in objects from China.
“There was a spotlight on this statue,” Carol recalls, “and I said, ‘Oh, wow!’ I just had to have him.”
And now Buddha is displayed in a white tile fountain created just for him near the front entrance to the Hamilton home.
A few steps away is an example of Carol’s sense of whimsy – an elderly lady with pursed lips “swims” through a flower bed, and all the viewer sees are her hands, her head (clad in an old-fashioned bathing cap), her backside and her feet.
The two pieces of sculpture are as far apart in visual impact as a pansy from a giant African water lily, but set the tone for what guests will discover throughout the garden that stretches over four lakeside lots (11/3 acres) overlooking Lake Wildwood.
One thing that’s very obvious: Robert and Carol Hamilton love animals. “I help found the Wildlife Rescue in Palo Alto 30 years ago,” Carol notes. (Motto: “Not animal rights, but what’s right for animals.”) One of the pieces of sculpture she’s fondest of, a piece of driftwood she found along a road in Portola Valley, bears an unmistakable resemblance to a cat perched on a boulder intently watching water in a pond.
The Hamiltons have owned their property at Lake Wildwood for 23 years, but until five years ago it was just their summer home. Their other residences were in Portola Valley, another at Tahoe Donner and one in Hawaii. Upon purchasing the house next door (now used as their guest house), they spent two years bringing the garden together as a unit with the help of landscape contractor Phil Aplin – who created the “hardscape” – and the creative efforts of both Cathy D’s Landscape and Gardens and BP Landscapes.
“Now all of our eggs are in one basket,” Carol smiles. “But this is what our home in Portola Valley looked like, and we’ve created some of the tropical look from our home on Maui. In all, we spent over two years redoing the houses and the yard.”
The plant list for the landscape is staggering. There are 11 different varieties of trees, including Flamingo box elder, Crimson Queen, Coral Bark and Green Laceleaf Japanese maples; weeping Norway spruce; Angelica “Thunderhead” and Trachycarpus palms, which are hardy to 10 degrees or lower.
Shrubs include azaleas, Birds Nest Spruce, Butterfly bush, Mugho pine, Oregon grape, razzleberry and yellow yew. The list of perennials, annuals and ground covers includes 45 different specimens, including Artemesia silver mound, Brown-eyed susans, carpet aster, Japanese Iris, veronica and zinnias.
And the feeling of nature continues indoors, particularly in the next-door “garden house.”
“Every aspect of the garden house is some aspect of nature,” she says, “and perhaps that’s the reason why, when one of my guests counted up all the animals on display there, she found over 500 of them.”
The art, too, leans heavily on nature. One framed print is Bev Doolittle’s imaginative “Prayer for the Wild Things,” which has 26 different species of animals waiting for the sharp-eyed viewer to discover them. There’s also a “fishing room” with appropriate art and sculpture, and artist Charles Wysocki’s cat pictures in another.
On a recent home tour, one visitor remarked, “The difference between this house and the others on the tour is that the people passing through all have smiles on their faces!”
Colorful koi carp lazily circling in the pond near the main pavilion once swam in a similar pond in Portola Valley. “We have two ponds and three water features,” Carol observes. “My father was a sea captain, and I love being near water.”
She also loves the sight and sound of birds and has established a “birdhouse corner” along a pathway leading to the water with over a dozen imaginative bird houses and more on the way.
So although the garden is at its height of bloom in springtime, there’s plenty of things to dazzle visitors throughout the year and create the feeling of being in harmony with nature.
“Sometimes I think I’m going to run out of space to display things,” Carol laughs, “but so far I haven’t.”
Dick Tracy is an award-winning garden writer and photographer, Master Gardener and former president of the Foothills Horticulture Society. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.
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