Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My Heart Belongs to Filoli Gardens

          It was Valentine's Day and I absolutely fell in love at first sight.  The first thing I saw were cherubs, but I never saw Cupid's arrow aiming for me--not just yet.

          Then, as soon as I saw the brick walled gate, draped gently in ivy and the lush, immaculate garden peeking through, I could tell this was going to be special.  Butterflies were in my stomach and I think I even gasped slightly as I stepped inside.

          I didn't know what to look at first: the camellia shrubs in bloom, the finely pruned dwarf boxwood, the ancient tree trunk artfully covered in emerald green moss

or the delicate, lacy, light green lichen that seductively covers branches everywhere.

I was hooked. 
"OMG," I texted my husband, "I died and went to heaven."  
(I know--cliche--but I couldn't help myself.)
"Paradise?" he texted back. "Yes."

          And what about this small garden room filled with colorful spring bulbs, potted olive trees and a beautiful white dove preening itself inside the little wooden bird house in a large wire domed cage, surrounded by ferns?

        The gardens at Filoli in Woodside, California (30 miles south of San Francisco) might be THE ONE--the most beautiful garden I have seen to date, especially in the States.  We met online.  One day I googled 'best California gardens' and Filoli popped up.  

I made a date to visit, but didn't quite know what to expect.  Anticipation was great.  I read that the 43-room mansion on the grounds was privately built and owned since 1915 and eventually it became a site for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  The gardens were built between 1917 and 1929.  Now I know that Filoli is included in the book, Great Gardens of America by Tim Richardson and Andrea Jones, and also duly noted in Penelope Hobhouse's In Search of Paradise: Great Gardens of the World.    

It is hard to choose my favorite room in these gardens in the undeveloped countryside with a backdrop of stunning vistas. These are the kind of gardens that are sonnet inspiring. "How do I love thee?" writes Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  "Let me count the ways."  The walled garden, the Chartres garden, the sunken garden, the rose garden, the knot garden, the olive orchard, the finely pruned (or should I say cleanly shaved) walls of trimmed yews, the magnolias...

blooming against the gorgeous blue California sky.

There is actually a long list of fascinating trees to love at Filoli.

What about all the black iron garden gates that lead you from one room to the next

                                   and the charming garden vignettes

                     that are mixed in to soften some of the hard edges?

          That is a lot to love.  And, it isn't even quite spring (the numerous wisteria vines aren't in bloom yet).  An employee there noted, the garden "is just starting to wake up now."  I can only imagine what summer looks like here and it occurs to me that I have to come back, again and again.

           This will be a long term, commuter relationship because moving to the Bay area out of mad love is not an option.  Fortunately, I can make this a day trip by plane.

          As for now, it is time to get back on that plane and go home.  And there is no doubt that on this Valentine's Day, to quote Tony Bennett, "I left my heart in San Francisco."

                          This is Garden Envy.  All rights reserved. 2012.


  1. Jeannine, I share your love for Filoli. When I still lived in the Bay Area I visited this garden once in a while and always was impressed with its beauty. At this time of the year I remember the camellias standing out. They have so many lovely varieties and all are very well maintained. Did you notice how professional the camellias are pruned? They really have (pruning)artists working on them. Thanks for this nice post bringing up fond memories. When I am next time in the Bay Area I have to make it a point to visit Filoli, again!

  2. Christina,

    I agree, the pruning was impeccable! Everything looked so good. It is definitely an art. It made me want to be a better gardener! Thanks for your note!



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