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Filoli Vistas

I have just returned from California, and I am still recovering from the long flight home, which was enhanced by an overnight Red-Eye PLUS, involving air turbulence and engine trouble. But I arrived home safely, though five hours late and extremely bleary-eyed. But the visit with my sons was well worth it. I also got to see some fantastic sights.

I have always wanted to visit Filoli, and now I can mark it off my bucket list. It was awe-inspiring, a favorite among all the gardens I have seen.Built by Mr. and Mrs. William Bowers Bourn II, who lived here between 1917 and 1936, the estate is now a property of the National Trust For Historic Preservation and is operated by Filoli, a not-for-profit organization.

Mr. Bourn created the name Filoli by combining the first two letters from the key words of his credo: Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life.The estate covers 654 acres on the south end of Crystal Springs Lake near San Francisco, and the Renaissance-style garden highlights its unique California setting.

Here are some of the scenes from this amazing place, which is still faithful to the original design:The Olive Orchard

The Sunken Garden

The Walled Garden

The Wedding Place

Following the deaths of Mr. and Mrs Bourn in 1936, Filoli was sold to Mr. and Mrs. William P. Roth in 1937. They loved this magnificent country estate as much as the original owners and maintained its features. They even kept the B in this iron gate that opens to the Yew Alee:

The Knot Garden

The Rose Garden

The Cutting Garden

The Fruit Garden

Entrance to the Woodland Garden 

Long view from the High Place

The Garden and Gift Shop

A high fence protects the Gardens from herds of deer, who must look longingly through the wire and dream of Heaven:

Even my son, not normally as enamored of gardens as I am, appreciated the beauty and serenity of Filoli:


Addendum: A number of commenters have asked about Filoli's response to the drought conditions California is experiencing.

Here is part of what the website says:

Filoli’s Planned Water Conservation Measures

  1. Irrigate woody plants at 40% of normal levels.
  2. Refrain from irrigating olive orchards, blue Atlas cedars and other stands or woody plants normally receiving monthly summer irrigation.
  3. Allow many low-visibility lawns to go dry for the summer. Currently planning for 40% (40,000 sq ft) of turf to receive either no or reduced irrigation.
  4. Converting two lawns to mulched areas.
  5. Partially reduce the number of containers in the garden and, for the most part, choose more drought tolerant varieties, like Pelargoniums (geraniums).
  6. Plant begonias, which are drought tolerant, in several annual beds.
  7. Turf Areas scheduled for significant water reductions in 2015:
    Group one— irrigation already turned off:
    North Lower Lawn terrace (field view to the north)
    North Ballroom lawn
    Service Courtyard lawn (outside administration offices)
    High Place lawns- upper and lower terraces

    Group two— reduced to 40% with supplemental watering of adjacent woody plants where needed:
    North and South Upper terraces (behind house)
    Behind Swimming Pool Pavilion
    Both Yew Allées along swimming pool
    Wedding place terrace lawns
    High Place Yew Allée

We did see some brown lawns and drought stressed plants while we were there. Please go to the above link for a complete look at their water conservation measures and also recommendations for your own garden. I found this very interesting.

Thank you!  Deb

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Reader Comments (25)

Thanks for taking us with you on this journey, Deb! :)

October 20, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

Beautiful! Thank you!

October 21, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbalu28

You can see the beauty, you can feel the serenity. Thanks for sharing, such a grand looking yet tranquil place!

October 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

Dear Deb, when I was living in the Bay Area, I was a regular visitor at Filoli and always loved it. It is actually one of the prettiest gardens that I have seen in America so far. But since I live in San Diego I haven't been at Filoli for many years and was so delighted to see it through your lens. It as beautiful as it always was and I think what makes this garden a standout is simply its age. The matures trees and yews are just wonderful. Also that they kept the original design has contributed to its uniqueness.
Thanks for this wonderful post, I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Warm regards,

October 21, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterchristina

This is one of my top favorite gardens. Early Spring is gorgeous, too, when the numerous wisteria is blooming.You have some great shots here!

October 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJeannine

What a marvellous place, I would be very happy wandering along those paths, it all looks so peaceful !

October 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPauline

Beautiful! Simply amazing. It makes some small part of me yearn for a formal garden (of which I could never maintain). Such perfectly executed arrangements and vistas!

Deb! How wonderful that you got to visit this truly amazing garden! It is many years since I went but I remember being as impressed as you obviously were. Just lovely photos of a beautiful place. I loved the walled garden in your pics - it looks so English! The roses in the rose garden looked amazing and seemed to be flowering so abundantly. They must have to mulch and mulch as I know how roses just love to drink and it is so dry there! So glad you had a good time but sorry the journey back was not so fun - at least you can say it was worth it though!
Have a good rest of the week.

October 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKate R

Glad you are safely home!
Filoli looks peaceful and serene.

October 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Studer

It's a beautiful garden. I couldn't help wondering how they're maintaining those lawns during this drought, though. I know Huntington Garden in SoCal has already been changing out its lawns for more drought tolerant groundcovers. It'll be interesting to see if all California's botanic gardens will be forced to follow suit.

October 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKris P

The return journey sounds horrid, but lovely to have caught up with your sons, and what a wonderful place to visit! Your photos communicate a wonderfully peaceful atmosphere, but the scale of it! I love the olive orchard. They must have to water and mulch a LOT through the summer though, not a low maintenance look anywhere, but particularly not in California!

October 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJanet/Plantaliscious

What a lovely place. I have never heard of it but then don't get to California very often. Thanks for the tour.

October 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMarcia

Hello, everyone! Thank you all for your comments. A number of you mentioned California's drought and wondered how Filoli is managing these conditions. I encourage you to read the addendum I have written at the bottom of my post and to also follow the link to their website with their complete drought response. Thank you! Deb

October 22, 2015 | Registered CommenterDeborah Elliott

Excellent tour and photographs! Judy and I did visit Filoli once but we were rushed and it was an extremely hot day so we honestly were not able to appreciate it properly. This makes me want to go back when I have more time and the weather is milder.

October 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJason

from these photos, I think it's my favourite garden too. And very interesting to read how they manage to save water. Hope you've recovered from your horrible flight back and that your eye's better now, Deb.

October 23, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercatmint

Hi Deb, really interesting to read about the extra measures taken because of the drought. I suspect that they may wind up having to take even more drastic measures if the global weather systems continue to tend to extremes, which will be a real challenge. How do you maintain the spirit of a garden whilst adapting to changing conditions? Such places could really lead the way.

October 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJanet/Plantaliscious

Thanks for the update, Deb! Maybe El Nino will turn Filoli's low visibility lawns green again (if it extends as far north as current projections anticipate). I was surprised to hear begonias referred to as low water plants but then I have limited experience with bedding begonias.

October 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKris P

I was definitely wondering how they kept it all watered! It's formality is definitely in stark contrast to the hills where it's located. But how wonderful that the new owners had so much respect for the garden. That happens so rarely.

October 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCasa Mariposa

A magnificent place! I especially loved your photo with the gate and the vista - gardens on the scale like this can have features us more normal people can just dream of! Thanks for letting me tag along.

October 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHelene

Deb how is it I never heard of this beautiful spot....it now goes on my list. I returned this week from a trip to Denver with a one day side trip to AZ to see my mom....it was hell with so many delays. I was 2.5 hrs late returning to Denver and we were leaving the next day for home. Then after sitting in the airport all day in Denver we had to overnight because our flight was so late we wouldn't make our connection home....then up at 3:30 for a 4:15am trip to the Denver airport again where we finally made it out....I have never seen so many flights delayed in October. Air travel is not fun....but it is worth it from time to time to see family!

October 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDonna@Gardens Eye View

Such a gorgeous garden, your photos are amazing; thank you for your thoughtful notes on what they are doing to deal with the drought.

October 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie@Seattle Trekker

What a beautiful garden! Thanks for sharing your visit.

October 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Gorgeous photos! I've heard so much about this garden! I hope to visit one day!

October 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJayne

That really does look like a beautiful place, I've never heard of it. What an unusual espalier, what is it, and why was it shaped like that?

November 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRobin

Hi Robin, those espaliered trees are wonderful; I wish I could have seen them when they were in full leaf. They are called Plane trees. They pollard and train them this way to maintain their size and and also to keep their knobby shape, and by doing this they can maintain size indefinitely. Deb

November 1, 2015 | Registered CommenterDeborah Elliott

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