Tours in two towns

A sneak peek at Mother’s Day homes and gardens

GATHERING SPACE The heart of the home—kitchens, like the one above in this year's GALS Home and Garden Tour are where big plans are made, guests are welcomed and relationships flourish. Photo: Robert Eliason
Spacious parcels, stunning views, fertile gardens and interiors adorned with items from around the world describe some of the finest sites in this year’s homes and gardens tours.

It would be enough if it were one tour, but Mother’s Day weekend offers two distinct tours in Aromas and Gilroy including homes in the surrounding communities of San Martin and Morgan Hill. For both Aromas Hills Artisans and Gilroy Assistance League (GALS), this year marks the 14th year of running these tours for their organizations.

The “Aromas Country Garden Tour” and GALS “Impressions: Home & Garden Tour” each offer hundreds of visitors a glimpse into the homes or gardens of local residents.

Designed to share local art, while supporting artistic development, Aromas Hills Artisans is a nonprofit that pulls together artists from the tri-county area of San Benito, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.

Aromas Country Garden Tour

Founded in 2000 and supported by annual events and grants from the Monterey Community Foundation and the Monterey Arts Council, Aromas Hills Artisans offers several opportunities throughout the year for people to experience the creations of its members.

This year at the group’s 14th annual Aromas County Country Garden Tour, the tour takes visitors through nine gardens.

“The tour features a wide variety of gardens—some level, some on hillsides,” says Aromas Hills Artisans coordinator Linda Bjornson.

Many of the gardens on the tour display fine examples of gardeners efforts at creating sustainable, drought tolerant gardens says Bjornson.

“Something that makes this garden tour more special is among the plants and flowers you will find artists.”

Each sprawling landscape features artwork by 15 local Aromas Hills Artisans, says Bjornson.

“They will be presenting artwork in many media,” she says. “There will be ceramics, photography, watercolor, Ukrainian eggs, authors with their books, stained glass, jewelry, oil painting and collage—itis a lively group as you can see.”

Bjornson says the gardens offer many surprises and artistic accents. “The first garden is at the Aromas Water District,” Bjornson says. “This flat and level garden is chock full of drought tolerant plants and will have free cuttings. The next garden is at a private home with extensive brick paths that wind to different garden areas.”

The next stop is a sunny mix of flowers like roses and iris, complete with veggies and fruit trees says Bjornson.

Garden goers will brave hills and country roads for some of these gems—one, she says, is a working nursery that specializes in organic veggie starts and herbs which will be available for purchase.

Further dawdling in the country showcases a private pottery studio amidst a succulent garden and the return trip to town highlights two more secluded gardens with great views.

GALS Home & Garden Tour

This year’s GALS home tour takes visitors on a driving tour to four beautiful homes throughout west Gilroy—going into the outskirts of Morgan Hill and San Martin.

Elaborate gardens, wrought iron gates, french doors, commercial refrigerators, industrial kitchens, secluded retreats, game rooms, outdoor theaters and great spaces for entertaining are among some of the most appealing elements on the tour.

Home tour chair Phylis Mantelli, says the committee chose four expansive homes this year—the largest on its tour is 10,000 square feet.

“I think the thing that ties these homes together is that they’re unique in that they showcase their culture and their travels,” Mantelli says. “You’ll see a lot of homemade artifacts and a lot of furniture and wood finishes from around the world. Two of the houses a lot of the furnishings and flooring are directly from India.”

GALS President Kelly Barbazette says the group’s procurement team spends the entire year picking out the homes to will be showcased on the tour—taking care to focus on a different area each year.

Barbazette notes the first two homes are the more modern of the homes on the tour.

“They are larger family homes meant for entertaining and they’re both stunning,” she says.

The the last home, Barbazette says, is probably the most historic out of the four.

Built in 1978 by a local builder, Barbazette says the home has undergone stunning transformation.

“One of the rooms that they kept intact is just unique—the room is nicknamed the birdcage by the original homeowners and it’s up a few steps and offers stunning view of the valley,” she says.

At the hilltop home of Gary and Jennifer Palacios, the view is amazing, with cantina patio doors of the kitchen that disappear in favor of the scenery. The counters are alight with the warm glow of Mexican travertine, Jennifer says it’s their big gathering place in their home, which is built for entertaining.

“We have an industrial sized sink, which is perfect for parties,” Jennifer says. “This house has a history of throwing parties. Since we’ve been here a little more than 10 years we’ve had six weddings. The seventh is going to be next month—our daughter’s.”

Though sizable at 5,000 square feet, with 16 arches throughout the home, exposed beams and a sunken living room with a conversation pit feel—the home retains a cozy feel.

Barbazette says the garden in third home makes for another fun stop along the tour.

“I would say the garden in third home is particularly interesting because of the four circus trees,” she says.

The current homeowners had hired Michael Bonfante and Benji Barragan to help them create a relaxing garden retreat on their 2.5 acres—including four spectacular circus trees, says Barbazette.

After starting out as the Gilroy chapter of the Children’s Home Society, the group changed its name to Gilroy Assistance League in 1984 and the 35-member group centered its aims on fundraising for local youth programs in Gilroy.

The Mother’s Day tour is the group’s largest fundraiser of the year, enabling them to give money to local community groups. In April they gave the $26,000 earned during the 2017 tour to 11 recipients including One Heart to Another, Gateway School, Learning and Loving Center and Unspoken Works to name a few.

The tour may offer a lovely getaway from the daily bustle, but it’s the giving back that mean the most to members at GALS.

“For me it’s personal because I grew up with not a lot of money,” Mantelli shares. “I was a welfare kid so I have a special heart for kids that are in need of different assistance and also just of the families.”

For women like Mantelli, GALS provides a great service to the community.

“For me it’s personal,” she says. “I feel so blessed to be where I am and to be able to give back and that’s why I do it.”

The tour ends with a boutique on a 2.5-acre estate overlooking Morgan Hill with views of Mt. Toro and Lick Observatory.

The boutique will feature more than a dozen vendors displaying a variety of items for the home and garden including specialty food items, upcycled wooden bird houses, painted furniture, magnetic wine charms, garden plants, succulent planters, handmade skin and bath products, soy candles, quilted home décor, crochet purses, biscotti, and a pop-up floral stand.



Aromas Country Garden Tour

Saturday, May 12

Visitors can buy tickets at the Aromas Grange 400 Rose Ave, Aromas, CA

Tickets are $15. Seniors (65+) $10.00.

Plant sale benefiting Aromas 4-H on site.

For more information, visit


Impressions: Home & Garden Tour (GALS)

Friday, May 11 and Saturday, May 12

The tour begins at 13535 Spring Valley Road, Morgan Hill.

Tickets $30 presale and $35 at the door Friday or Saturday

For advanced tickets and more information, visit

Debra Eskinazi
Latest posts by Debra Eskinazi (see all)
About Debra Eskinazi
Debra Eskinazi is the editor of South Valley magazine.