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  • Jose Luis Villegas / jvillegas@sacbee.com

    Peg Tomlinson Poswall and John Poswall named their 50-acre property near Lincoln the "Gardens of Springhill."

  • José Luis Villegas / jvillegas@sacbee.com

    Grapevines shade a table made of a single slab of redwood in the Italian garden of John and Peg Poswall. Like most of their 18 themed gardens, it was inspired by travel.

  • José Luis Villegas / jvillegas@sacbee.com

    Glazed roof tiles adorn the buildings in the Poswalls' new Chinese-theme garden.

  • Jose Luis Villegas / jvillegas@sacbee.com

    Peg Tomlinson Poswall works in her professional-grade kitchen, where she and her husband prepare monthly dinners to share with food-obsessed friends. The former restaurateur is well-known as a food writer.

  • Artist Claude Monet’s impressionist plantscapes inspired the Monet Garden.

  • Peg Tomlinson Poswall and John Poswall named their 50-acre property near Lincoln the "Gardens of Springhill."

  • An outdoor kitchen featuring a pizza oven is a recent addition to the patio.

Foothills couple add new Chinese garden to 50-acre collection

Published: Saturday, Aug. 11, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 4CALIFORNIA LIFE

Most travelers bring home souvenirs.

In their globe-trotting, John and Peg Poswall collect ideas, then transplant them to their home and gardens.

"We see something we like and we think, 'We could do that,' " said John Poswall, as he surveyed the view from his turret. "And we do."

That's why their home – nicknamed "Toad Hall" – looks like a castle complete with a 40-foot circular stone tower. Inside the tower is a circular library, packed with thousands of books.

With a nod to Poswall's native England, the house has its own Stonehenge, overlooking a well-stocked 5-acre pond. Nearby are massive Chinese gates, the entrance to his newest creation.

"When I bought this property, I wanted a view and a pond," he said. "I got both."

Their view now includes bits of Europe, Mexico and Asia, woven together with whimsy on 50 oak-studded acres in the hills outside Lincoln.

Poswall calls his creations the "Gardens of Springhill." So far, he has 18 gardens, all pulled from farflung inspirations.

"They're not meant to be faithful reproductions or replicas, but were inspired by these other places," he said.

Most of the work Poswall did himself, often starting without a plan on paper, but just an idea. The gardens fit together in a colorful and surprising patchwork.

"In the evening, Peg and I sit out here on the deck and say, 'Can you believe we have this?' " Poswall said.

Among Sacramento's best-known attorneys as well as a novelist, Poswall created his own retreat full of fun and memories. Peg Tomlinson Poswall is a renowned food expert, writer and former restaurateur. Together, they love to entertain.

"We like putting people around a table, talking and having a good time," said Peg, while stirring a large pan of tomatillo sauce for an upcoming taco party.

Her well-equipped professional kitchen could host a cooking show. The fourth Sunday of each month, she and John get together with fellow foodies for a themed dinner, she explained.

"You'd think it would be nice and relaxed, but we're all serious foodies," Peg said. "It's a throwdown."

The couple's energy is legendary and contagious.

"Peg and John constitute an impact couple," said friend Mike Dunne, The Bee's former food editor. "They get an idea, develop a vision, and then see it through to completion, whether it be a book, garden, restaurant, dinner party or whatever.

"I'm not sure where all their gumption comes from, but I've been struck by their persistently upbeat attitude," Dunne added. "They like to laugh."

Besides traveling and working on myriad projects, the Poswalls both are active fundraisers for local charities.

"(They're) the Central Valley's true Renaissance couple," said author John Lescroart, another longtime friend. "John and Peg continually push the envelope in what constitutes the good life and how to live it graciously and meaningfully.

"Their home and gardens somehow manage to be as welcoming as they are inspiring," Lescroart added. "The circular turret library alone is worth the visit.

"And the garden is simply stunning – a tribute to the couple's vision and imagination," he said. "It is perhaps the most impressive private garden planted anywhere in California in the past decade – or more."

While Peg keeps cooking, John is finishing his third novel and, of course, gardening.

The son of an Indian father and British mother, he moved from England to Marysville when he was 10 years old. Growing up, he picked fruit along with his parents.

A graduate of California State University, Sacramento, and Cal's Boalt Hall law school, Poswall found success beyond his dreams.

"My first job was in the fields, picking peaches, picking grapes in Lodi," he said. "It was the typical immigrant experience. One generation later, I live here."

Poswall bought the property about 20 years ago after he was diagnosed with leukemia. His cancer remains in remission.

His gardens are a return to nature.

"I've always gone out and played with the landscape," he said. "I love ponds. I like driving the bulldozer. I've got the room to do that here."

The latest addition to their wonderland is a spectacular cross-cultural Asian blend named "Yu Shan Hua Yuan," the Garden of Mountain Happiness. More than 300 friends and fellow garden lovers recently celebrated its dedication.

"It was two years in the making," Poswall said. "But of course, it's not done."

That garden started with a gift from friend Darrell Corti – a 1772 first edition of "Dissertation on Oriental Gardening" by English architect Sir William Chambers.

That prompted Poswall's imagination and travel plans. He and Peg traveled to Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou, China's city of gardens. They found just the right glazed roof tile for the garden's structures and plenty of other ideas.

"When we started, there was no plan," Poswall said. "It really started with that book – and a boulder."

Estimated at 50 tons, that massive stone serves as a focal point inside equally massive gates, modeled after the entrance door to the back garden of the Imperial City.

A natural stream winds through the garden, connecting bridges, groves and a hidden garden.

China is just one stop on the Poswalls' world tour. An Italian garden – complete with bocce court – traces its roots to a vacation in Tuscany. Grapevines cover a large arbor over a 17-foot dining table made from a single plank of rough-hewn redwood.

A trip to Palermo inspired the Sicilian garden that traverses a 400-foot walkway, lined with cypress, fountains and statuary.

"Tequila Hill" is covered with 800 agaves, grown from a single plant. Nearby, Mexican fan palms shade succulents and cactus in a homage to the Southwest.

On the pond, a rowboat lazily floats among the water lilies in a scene straight out of a French impressionist painting. Below the tower, more than 100 tons of boulders form the terraces of an elegant English rose garden.

Each garden has its own personality. Most are dedicated to family or friends. (Hence, the "Crazy Uncle Rob Garden" – named for Poswall's son – full of kidnapped gnomes.)

Poswall planted timber bamboo and other fast-growing hedges to separate the gardens.

"I don't want it to look like Disneyland," he said. "I want each garden to be distinct."

With time, the gardens will mature and add to their distinction. And Poswall keeps adding more.

Said Poswall, "As the Chinese say, a garden is never finished."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Debbie Arrington



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