Become a Better Writer: Artist Date at the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden Center in Palo Alto, California

The Artist Date is a dream-child of Julia Cameron, helping readers learn how to become a better writer. We’ve discussed her book, The Artist’s Way, and highly recommend both the book and the weekly date. An Artist Date can be life-changing. It can open your creativity like nothing else. Today, let’s look, listen, and smell what the garden center has laid out for us.


Nobody sees a flower—really—it is so small it takes time—we haven’t time—and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.
~ Georgia O’Keeffe (as quoted by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way)

I really want to see flowers and nurture my inner creative child, so I visit the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden Center in Palo Alto, California. Flowers, foliage and flowing fountains spread across two-and-a-half acres feed my senses and soul with beauty for one hour.

Not long ago, voluptuous pink peony-flowering tulips graced one bed of the garden behind the Gamble House. Now only green undulating leaves hint at what once bloomed. I stroll along bricks laid in a herringbone pattern, which outline a green rectangle of lawn in the center while beds filled with flowers, shrubs and trees line the outside of the brick path. A gurgling fountain warbles nearby. Birds chirp and zing.

Clusters of purple wisteria still hang from a tree, but the flowers have shrunk since my last visit. The flowers change from a light lavender to a darker purple as they age.

I close my eyes and listen to the soothing sound of skipping water and singing birds. My breathing slows. Next I open my eyes to gaze at a Paperbark Maple tree (Acer griseum) and admire how its dark coffee-brown bark peels off in rippled strips revealing a slightly lighter, but still dark-brown, smooth skin. I long to touch it but I can’t without stepping on the green foliage growing underneath the tree, so I content myself with looking at its peeling strips.

A few steps from a pergola-covered back porch, a faded wood bench beckons to me. I sink into the bench’s rough texture, close my eyes and listen to water flowing from the fountain and the different bird calls around me. Some birds sing a song, while others chitchat. I wonder what they’re saying.

When I open my eyes, I see a white wisteria tree with its bounty of white globes hanging along the other side of the porch. Part of the tree wraps around a white column of the back porch. Glass French doors reveal a room in the house with a vase full of flowers, a table and a chair in a room with wood floors. The doors are locked. On my last visit, I walked through the house’s front door and explored the few rooms open to the public.

I imagine living in the house and wandering the gardens in the morning or after dinner. Perhaps my friends and I amble and talk as we explore the different gardens around the house.

A plane’s loud thrum interrupts my reverie. Several clay pots overflowing with white cyclamen, tiny pink flowers and taller green foliage sit on the back porch. I return to the brick pathway to survey the other beds. A short green tree or shrub labeled “Emerald Green” draws me like a child to cookies placed beyond reach. It looks like it should be in a Dr. Seuss book with its feathery green leaves and squat triangular shape, and I want to touch its feathery leaves, but it’s beyond the path and surrounded with delicate ground cover that I mustn’t crush.

Time travels faster here as I look at my smartphone. I stride toward the rose garden with purple catmint and purple mini-hyacinth planted along the bed’s edge, near the semi-enclosed garden behind the house. Green buds appear on most of the roses; a few roses already bloom. Delicate peach-pink buds appear on a rose labeled “Michele Meilland,” Floribunda, 1945. Other roses are labeled “wild” or “heritage.”

From there, I walk into another garden “room,” where another fountain flows and reeds stand like sentries in the water. Another bench invites, so I sit and soak in the different sounds: cars zoom by, an airplane engine strums, water burbles, and birds chatter. When the wind blows, I catch a faint scent: jasmine.

Photos by Tambako the JaguarCreative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Dolly Lee.

How to become a better writer? Browse Artist Dates for inspiration, then head out on your own. 


Every Day Poems Driftwood

Want to brighten your morning coffee?

Subscribe to Every Day Poems and find some beauty in your inbox.


  1. says


    I followed you over here for this post. Ahh, I could smell the garden rooms and feel my shoulders relaxing as I read. It whet in me a hunger for the Minnesota Conservatory we have here, which sounds similar.

    I grinned in nodding agreement at the phrase, “feed my senses and soul with beauty for one hour.” Yes, that and the quote by o’Keefe that “to see takes time.” Yes…

    Jennifer Dougan

    • says

      It makes me smile to think that you could feel your “shoulders relaxing” as you read…Thank you…and O’Keeffe’s quote means even more to me after I saw some of her flower paintings close-up…Hope you get to visit the Minnesota Conservatory soon :)

  2. says

    What a beautiful place – thank you for sharing it with us. I can hardly wait to get to Longwood Gardens this August, back to the Lily Ponds!

  3. says

    How I enjoy peaking over your shoulder as we take in the beauty of God’s creation. Time slows for me and I breathe easier as you do… Thanks for the trip, Dolly. It was wonderful.

    • says

      Thanks for taking the time to come with me…I’m still on Week 8 of Julia’s book…it’s taking me a while but I am enjoying my time in Making Manifest…Thanks for leading our group and introducing the book to me :)

  4. says

    Hi Dolly! I could just feel the slower pace as you walked through the garden…and dreaming about walking with friends too. Great Artists date! I love that book, The Artists Way, and I’ve read it several times. You remind me to get going on those ‘dates’! It’s been a while.


    • says

      It is my first time reading through The Artist’s Way and I’m not done…Julia C. says to have a weekly artist date but I confess I haven’t been able to do it…when I do, I am always thankful..glad you’re inspired to go on an artist’s date :) Thank you for walking with me through Gamble Garden.

  5. says

    Isn’t it interesting how a rough bench invites rest, contemplation, and appreciation (rather than just being a splintery hard place to sit) when it’s placed in the midst of almost other-worldly botanical beauty?

    Undulating leaves <– I like that.


  6. says

    I know my garden is more cottage and backyard-y, but I do so wish you could visit me :) wouldn’t that be fun? The lilacs are scenting the air and the snowball bush and wedding veil spirea are clouds of white. Peonies are about to bloom and the clematis is covered in buds — So as you toured and listened to birdsong, I just pretended I was right there along with you.

    • says

      Oh, lilacs…visiting you sounds lovely…and your backyard sounds bountiful with scents and flowers, thanks for giving me a peek…Thanks for using your imagination to come along with me :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *