Sunday, March 8, 2009

San Francisco Travel, Filoli Estate and Gardens

Photos Courtesy : Filoli

Built in 1917 for William Bourn III and his wife, Filoli was subsequently bequeathed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation by the Roth family.

The Georgian revival mansion, designed by Willis Polk, stands as a centerpiece in the estate's sixteen-acre formal garden, created by landscape designer Bruce Porter together with Isabella Worn.

Photos Nilda Gardon-Lindorfer: Filoli

The house's U-shaped floor plan features two axes and a long hallway that parallels the valley beyond. The garden's overall design with its north-south axis repeats the line of the mansion's transverse hall.

Especially lovely to behold in Spring, the garden plan unfolds in a series of walled rooms, with terraces and lawns, parterres and pools complementing the natural vegetation and vistas surrounding the estate.

The renowned Yew Allee demonstrates William Bourn's affection for Ireland's Muckross House, home to Bourn's daughter and son-in-law.  More than 200 Irish yews grown at Filoli were started from cuttings taken from Muckross. The yews, along with espaliered apple and pear trees lead to the High Place, an open-air theatre facing south, where ancient columns form an inspiring backdrop. 

Filoli opens its gates in early spring, when exuberant displays give rise to the mansion's clematis and wisteria-draped portico and terrace balustrades. The grounds teem with tulips and daffodils, azaleas, camellias, wildflowers and a trove of blooming shrubs. By late spring, glimmering dogwood and 'Sunburst' honey locust play a prominent role, while flowering cherries and laburnums are memorable focal points.

The Sunken Garden presents a balancing act between meticulously groomed hedges, soaring trees, profusely blooming container displays, and ornamentation - petite, cast-lead water maidens. Gazing at the vast hilly terrain visible in the distance seems to reenergize the spirit, as it completes the tableau. 

In the knot gardens, Celtic patterns are woven with emerald germander, violet-hued Japanese barberry, soft lavender, and silvery santolina, with its perky yellow flowers.

Italian Renaissance in style, the Walled Garden holds a central place among Filoli's gardens. This partitioned realm encompasses three garden rooms, each one characterized by its own indelibly romantic ambience.

The property surrounding the estate is a haven of undeveloped woods and fields that can be explored on hikes with Filoli's nature docents. Located in Woodside, 25 miles or so south of San Francisco, the microclimate is a nearly ideal environment for a garden of Filoli's caliber. William Bourn's vision for this land has continues to enthrall visitors to the estate. On another note, Isabella Worn remained involved with the plantings until the age of eighty-one. Together with owner and benefactor, Mrs. William P. Roth, the two lovingly nurtured Filoli's gardens for decades, carrying on Bourn's spirit.


  1. Hi Alice. Love the impeccably trimmed wisteria. The gardeners must keep their secateurs nearby for hourly trims. I always enjoy hearing about the meticulous preservation of places like this. If only the original owners could see it now. :)

  2. Lovely! Of course, the insidious theme music from 'Dynasty' started playing in my head while I looked at these pictures. The Bourn family had a summer house here in Grass Valley, on the grounds of their Empire Mine. Link on my blog site, if you want to take a peek.

  3. Yes! I have to go see that football field of daffodils! Thanks for the reminder. Filoli is always amazing. The heirloom apples and pears in fall are also a treat....

  4. Daffodil, thanks for enlightening me about the Grass Valley property.
    Grace, for sure the Bourn family would be pleased.
    TM, the fall heirloom fruit festival is yet another special example of Filoli's great gardenscape.

  5. Love those trees. What a beautiful garden.

  6. Filoli is beautiful. The kind of garden I like visiting. I especially love the daffodil field and the white wisteria. Never having been to California, I enjoy hearing about the gardens, and Vancouver's too. Thanks for the info. 16 acres of gardens would be wowser!

  7. Love those big trees full of blooms; be it whites, yellows, reds, oranges ... They are beautiful.

  8. Ohh, to live that kind of lifestyle! A dream, truly;) I love the field of daffodils! And the potted tulips look whimsical on the steps--what gorgeous wisteria! Wonderful write-up. You do an amazing job with your posts.

  9. Alice, what a great site. not only Filoli but all the gardens and every picture ia a gem.