Special spaces

  • Maeve Dowd, 9, plays a recorder while her brother Ronan, 7, kicks a soccer ball around on the artificial turf lawn at their home in Healdsburg, Calif., on April 26, 2014. (Alvin Jornada / For The Press Democrat)

A cement wall around a yard might be a not-so-subtle message to stay away. But for Marnie Dowd, mother of three, that formidable wall is only a sound barrier.

And to prove she's not trying to wall off her Healdsburg neighbors, she punched out two wooden windows for the possible friendly "yoo-hoo."

The wall also provides the backdrop for a dramatic modern garden, just one distinct space in a property she and her husband, Ross, carefully planned out to accommodate the needs of a multi-generational family that soon will include her elderly parents.

Spring Home Tour Preview


There are places to play, places to entertain, a full-size lap pool, a massive wrap-around screened-in porch and even a Japanese garden off the master bedroom where two busy parents can decompress. Oh, and two houses.

As further evidence of Dowd's friendly-neighbor policy, she invited the public to stroll through her many-layered landscape during the Sonoma County Medical Alliance and Foundation's 23rd Annual Garden Tour on May 17.

The tour offers a peak into six very different Healdsburg gardens, from bird and butterfly sanctuary surrounding a 1926 bungalow to a French contemporary-style garden complete with petanque court.

The Medical Alliance Tour is one of a number of home and garden tours coming up in the North Bay. It's a springtime tradition, when people get a rare chance to go beyond the gates, fences, walls and doors of private homes and gardens to see what other people are doing with their living space, both inside and out.

Think HGTV, but better. These are people working within the architecture, climate and tastes of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The season kicks off May 4 with the Healdsburg AAUW Homes Tour. The tour includes six homes, all within a short radius of the plaza. They include a renovated 1938 Tudor cottage, the spectacularly appointed Ivy House on Center Street, featured in many magazines and home to designer Myra Hoefer, and a new house built on the site of a former boarding house.

New owner Kim Nordmo, an investment manager, fell in love with this new home, designed by Gerda Engelbart, that is packed with modern comforts but looks like it's been there for generations. The 3,200-square-foot home incorporates recycled wood from the original building.

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