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Garden Walk

Map to Filoli Gardens: Area 1 The Friends' Native Plant Garden Visitor and Education Center Gentlemen's Orchard Olive Orchard Magnolia Collection Front Lawns Plane Tree Allee Main House, Entry Courtyard, Oaks, Wall Vines, and Foundation Plantings Lower North Lawn Terraces Main Axis West Terraces Bonsai Collection Service Courtyard Garage Camellias & Citrus

Explore the Garden:
The House and the Approaches

An historical overview of the sections of the Garden and grounds open to the public or by special reservation. Click on the map numbers to the left to learn more or click on any of the names in the list below.

Additional Garden Walk pages are under construction.

More Areas to Explore

  • Sunken Garden and Lower Lawn Terraces
  • Walled and Woodland Garden
  • Panel Gardens (Kitchen Garden)
  • Greenhouses
  • The House, room by room
The Friends' Native Plant Garden
The Friends' Native Plant GardenThe Friends' Native Plant Garden.

The Friends' Native Plant Garden

The Friends' garden was created in memory of Kay Reimer, the second president of the Friends of Filoli in 2005, to honor all the past and future presidents for their dedication and leadership in preserving Filoli. The inspiration for the design was the madrone tunnel along Old Cañada Road to the west side of the property, where the red trunks of the native madrones and manzanitas dominate the character of the landscape. This new native plant garden contains 51 native plants. It was developed within an existing oak madrone woodland and new plants are selected for their watering compatibility. Many of the under story perennials, like the hound's tongue and the Douglas iris, were propagated in the greenhouses from seed or cuttings collected at Filoli. This garden expands Filoli's horticultural resources by focusing on sustainable landscaping in a location central to the historic core and accessible to our volunteers and visitors.

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Visitor and Education Center
Visitor and Education CenterVisitor and Education Center.

Visitor and Education Center

The Visitor and Education Center was completed in 1996. The vision for the landscape design around this new building was to preserve and enhance the olive orchard to the north and to preserve and enhance the existing native California oak and madrone woodlands on the other three sides using compatible and drought tolerant plants. The olives along the main entry steps were lifted and moved to the west side of the house before the project started and then transplanted back into their same row spaces after the construction was finished. The new building was carefully integrated between existing oak trees so the fewest trees would have to be removed. Rosemary 'Mozart' was selected as the bank planting on both sides of the entry steps for its beautiful, rich purple color. It was also selected for erosion control, deer resistance and drought tolerance. Narcissus recycled from the previous year's display pots are placed on the surface of the soil in the lower area under the oak trees and topped with 6" of mulch to avoid damaging tree roots. Two other shade, drought, and deer-tolerant bulbs, the Spanish scilla and the spring star flower, Iphieon uniflorum, have also been planted under the olives and in the parking lot median strips. In the area to the west of the building, the bank by the delivery lot has been planted in native sages. This area also contains silk tassel Garrya elliptica 'Evie', which screens the new building from the historic house. Two natives have been propagated in from seed collected on the site, including coffeeberry, Rhamnus californicus, and madrone, Arbutus menziesii. Specimens of the native live oak and the white oak have been planted to replace trees that were removed during construction.

The Lane Courtyard, which is located outside the lobby, is surrounded by the VEC on three sides and provides outdoor seating for the Café. It was designed in the style of a classical formal garden room. The English ivy growing on the walls are Hedera helix 'Angularis' propagated from the original bowling green ivies. The deciduous Virginia creeper, with its bright red fall color, was propagated from the one growing on the yew at the bottom level of the wedding place and was added to complement the evergreen ivy. This is an area where pots of seasonal color are rotated throughout the year. The cast composition statues of putti's placed along the walls are from the Melville Martin Collection.

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Gentlemen's Orchard
Gentlemen's OrchardGentlemen's Orchard.

Gentlemen's Orchard

Filoli's recently-restored gentlemen's orchard (1997), also called a mixed orchard, is the largest private collection of heirloom fruit in North America. It was an original feature of the estate and appropriately placed along the main entry road, which was a typical layout for a country estate. Filoli's orchard survives as one of Filoli's most unique landscape features from the era when gentleman farmers like Mr. Bourn grew collections of fruits as a hobby and to provide dessert fruits for use in the main house for the owners and their guests. Bourn knew that the only way to enjoy really fine fruit was to grow it yourself, because the best fruit can't endure shipping or long storage. Allocating space for fruit must have been an important priority for the Bourns since they allocated 10 acres for the mixed orchard and included a large fruit garden and English fruit cages within the formal gardens. In addition, they allocated space for an olive orchard and perimeter olive plantings in the garden. Few estate orchards have survived, while they were once common on the San Francisco Peninsula. The Bourns also included a fruit store, or cellar, designed by Gardner Dailey, which was constructed in close proximity to the orchard and is still used to store fruit today. The cellar, although retrofitted with a refrigeration unit, provides a place for the interpretation of fruit harvesting and storage.

Today the goals for the orchard, in addition to restoring an original landscape feature, are to preserve historic fruit germplasm, develop educational programs, and distribute scions to other organizations. The orchard contains approximately 649 trees and a rare collection of more than 141 American hybrid table grapes, such as Concord, from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The lower overflow parking lot was developed in 1986 on land that was originally the northern end of the gentlemen's orchard. The design was developed by staff around the existing rows to save as many trees as possible.

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Olive Orchard
Olive OrchardOlive Orchard.

Olive Orchard

The olive orchard was planted about the same time as the gentlemen's orchard, around 1918, and is an original landscape feature. It used to extend all the way to the gentlemen's orchard and was planted in hardy 'Mission' olives and a few 'Manzanillo' olives. This orchard, the smaller olive grove to the west of the lower lawn terraces, the plantings to the south of the cutting garden, and the row of olives along the boundary of the garden west of the yew allée edge the garden on three sides. Garden plans and other manuscripts were often decorated with borders depicting orchards and rows of trees. In 1979, every other tree row was removed to build a parking lot for the Filoli Center.

Significant Plantings

Olea europaea - 'Mission' - EUROPEAN OLIVE 'MISSION'
Willow-like foliage is a soft gray green above and silvery glaucous below. Smooth gray trunks and branches become gnarled and picturesque with age. The 'Mission' Olive is the hardiest of all the olives and has survived at Filoli with historic lows of 15°F. Today visitors ask about the olives and inquire if they were ever used for making olive oil or for curing table olives. It was the Italian gardeners who cured the fruit with lye and water and shared their olives with Mrs. Roth. Today the trees are infested with a new pest called the olive fruit fly which makes the fruit unusable for curing. Deer and wild turkeys still enjoy the fruit after it drops and loses its bitterness. We do not spray the olives to reduce the crop or to control pests.

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Magnolia Collection
Magnolia grandifloraMagnolia grandiflora.

Magnolia Collection

Magnolia grandiflora - SOUTHERN MAGNOLIA; BULL BAY

The magnificent Southern magnolia was planted on the front lawn by Mrs. Roth in 1948 as a replacement for a live oak. This tree is pruned every year to maintain its size and form. Its prunings are still used today for making holiday decorations. A native to the low lying swamps of the southeast, this tree and other magnolias are excellent choices for planting in lawns. Mrs Roth added deciduous magnolias and the evergreen Michelia doltsopa along the entry drive. More magnolias and michelias were added to this border of white flowering trees to fill in some empty spaces after the Visitor and Education Center was completed.

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Front Lawns - English Greensward
Front Lawns - English GreenswardFront Lawns-English Greensward
© Saxon Holt.

Front Lawns - English Greensward

Turf is considered one of the most beautiful features of the English garden and a symbol of status and wealth because of its year-round aesthetic and high maintenance costs. Filoli's lower lawn terrace on the west side is a very important design element because it helps emphasize the longitudinal axis and preserves the view looking north towards Crystal Springs Reservoir. The lower terrace wraps around the north and east sides surrounding the house. The function of the terraces is to provide a solid base for the house and also an overflow area for guests to spill out onto.

Visitors always ask what type of turf is grown and how the lawns are maintained at Filoli. This is a big subject but here are a few answers to frequently asked questions. We renovate and overseed the lawns in the fall from September to mid-October. In the sunniest areas close to brick paths and along walls Bermuda grass will colonize. This is a durable grass but it goes dormant and brown in the winter so it is over seeded with perennial rye for a green color in the spring when the tulips bloom. We overseed using a traditional mix of fine textured turf types including Kentucky bluegrass, perennial rye and creeping red fescue. Turf is fertilized in the fall and again in the spring and we avoid fertilizing during the cold rainy winter and hot summer months which can promote disease. We do not use pre-emergent herbicides on the lawns for weeds because many of these chemicals leach into ground water and Filoli is in the watershed. The lawns are edged and mowed on Mondays using reel and rotary mowers and string line edgers. If a holiday falls on a Monday then staff will mow on Tuesdays. The lawns are generally watered twice a week depending on the turf type and where they are located. We make no attempt to maintain pure stands of one type of turf because there are so many different microclimates. The English daisy and clovers add a nice historic touch to the lawns and provide nectar to our honey bees and other beneficials. By watering and fertilizing to promote healthy turf the result is fewer weeds.

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Plane Tree Allée
Plane Tree AlleePlane Tree Allée.

Plane Tree Allée

One of the unique English garden features found throughout the garden and lining the drive to the service courtyard are the pollarded plane trees. The pollarding of the London plane trees serves a dual purpose of aesthetic style and practical care. Pollarding is a technique in which the heads of main branches are cut back to promote a more bushy growth of foliage. This helps to maintain the tree's size and shape while encouraging dense, vigorous growth. With annual attention, trees can be maintained at a specific height for centuries. The resulting uniformity is especially effective at Filoli, where repetition plays an important role in the landscape's formal design. The plane trees add a sculptural element to the overall landscape.

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Main House, Entry Courtyard, Oaks, Wall Vines, and Foundation Plantings
Main House, Entry Courtyard, Oaks, Wall Vines, and Foundation PlantingsFront of Filoli house.

Main House, Entry Courtyard, Oaks, Wall Vines, and Foundation Plantings

The Entry Courtyard is another example of how much the Bourns preferred the classical design aesthetic. The courtyard style originated from the open-centered, ancient peristyle type gardens of Rome. These were paved, functional spaces located within a residence and supported by rows of columns accessible and viewed form the adjacent rooms. Filoli's courtyard was designed for receiving guests, so automobiles could arrive directly to the front door. The large open gravel expanse was necessary to accommodate the parking of several vehicles at one time and still provide enough room for an adequate turning radius. Courtyards relate to the estate approaches. The approaches were often located on the least interesting side with regard to views and features, saving the best orientations for viewing inside the house or from the gardens. Filoli's entry courtyard is elegant but austere compared to what we expect today for an entry garden. Sometimes visitors wonder about the extensive use of pea gravel and why we don't plant turf in the center. Courtyards like this were typically paved, often with gravel to match the surface of the entry road. Attractive, broadleaf evergreen shrubs and deciduous trees were planted for the foundation plantings. Creepers were grown on the walls to soften the architecture. Annual flowers were never meant to be grown outside the protection of the garden walls, although pots were often displayed at the portico and on the front steps.

The selection of the column order for the portico would give a clue and convey to educated outsiders what the owner had intended for the general character of his place. Tuscan columns were the strongest and simplest in style, and the appropriate order for the entry to a rural or agricultural place like a gentleman's farm. The portico is furnished inside with classical-style marble reproductions of birdbaths which were found during British excavations at Pompeii during the nineteenth century. Reproductions like these and the ones on the dining room terrace became popular garden ornaments during the early twentieth century. Filoli's are original family pieces, handed down from Mr. Bourn's mother, and add to the historic integrity of our collections.

The foundation plantings, which were selected outside the formal garden walls are mostly drought-tolerant and well-adapted to the rigorous Mediterranean climate of California. They are deer-proof, low-maintenance plants with either handsome evergreen foliage or special seasonal affects. They include: Irish yew, wisteria, Virginia creeper, plane tree, cotoneaster, English holly, boxwood, daphne, choisya, hardy ferns, mahonia and acanthus. All of these plants are character-defining plants of an English country place garden and recommended by gardening authorities of the period. It is interesting to note how many of these plants are ancient and were grown by the Romans in their hillside villas.

Significant Plantings

An entry must be good looking all the time, especially at a place like Filoli. This courtyard planting is very successful for several reasons. The plants here are permanent hedges, trees, shrubs and vines that provide year-round interest and are relatively low maintenance. The camellias, pittosporums, rhododendrons and boxwood are very dignified looking broadleaf evergreens. They are strong enough to balance the formal symmetry and scale of the residence with its imposing portico. Other plants like the Japanese maples, magnolias, and the wisterias are deciduous and provide seasonal interest with their beautiful branching patterns, changing foliage textures and flowers. Planting the maples around the courtyard was a brilliant solution to balancing the formal symmetry of the residence. The fine, textured leaves screen the house and keep it from being too overwhelming. The magnolias are spectacular when in bloom! The creepers which the Bourns loved so much, like the Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, climb the brick walls and turn into a bright red pattern in the fall. An unusual, late summer blooming shrub with fragrant puce-colored flowers is called Clerodendrum bungei or Cashmere Bouquet, which is generally unavailable in the nursery trade and only found surviving in old estates like Filoli. The boxwood hedge reinforces the formality of the courtyard by providing a border for the foundation bed.

Heritage Oaks

In contrast to other country estates built in this area, Filoli's residence was modestly nestled into a valley setting and placed adjacent to the magnificent live oak grove. The heritage oaks helped make the new home look instantly established and in scale with its surroundings. As part of the planning process, the Bourns plotted all the existing oak trees on a contour map and carefully integrated the footprint of the house within the grove to avoid damaging the trees. They preserved wild oaks in other places too, and developed the formal gardens around them. Today these trees have grown up with the gardens and the Coast Live Oak is the dominant canopy. The mulched areas under the oaks are dry zones where the irrigation is kept away from the crowns of the trees to help keep them from getting root rot.

Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata' IRISH YEW
Cuttings of the Irish yews were brought from Muckross to the Bourns' home at the Empire Mine in Grass Valley and grown there. Later they were dug from the ground, boxed, and transported to Filoli where they were planted in the gardens and on the grounds. The yews (224) found throughout the garden are pruned to a compact, columnar effect.

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Lower North Lawn Terraces
Lower North Lawn TerracesLower North Lawn Terraces.

Lower North Lawn Terraces

The dirt parking lot on the north side of the residence where the Blue Atlas cedars are growing was originally a magnificent formal lower lawn terrace and the entry to the house and gardens. The entry road, like the entry courtyard, was originally paved with pea gravel. Its alignment followed the natural contours and meandered through the property along a route that frames magnificent views of the backdrop to the west, and showcased the fruit collections in the gentlemen's orchard. The house is discreetly shielded from public view by the oak knoll and only revealed as one comes around the corner.

Significant Plantings

Cedrus atlantica Glauca Group
One of the most significant plantings on the north side of the house in the lower lawn terrace is the Blue Atlas Cedar, Cedrus atlantica Glauca Group, one of Filoli's original estate trees. It was selected because of its blue foliage which contrasts so well with the green pasture and the other colors of the native vegetation. Its open character frames the view but doesn't block it. The blue Atlas cedars and oaks are declining as a result of the soil compaction from the parking in this area.

Daphe odora 'Aureo-Marginata' YELLOW-EDGED DAPHNE
This fragrant evergreen Dapne which blooms in late February was Mrs. Bourn's favorite plant, which explains why it is found growing in so many places throughout the gardens. It was originally planted in the lower balustrade bed beneath the leptospermums. It is considered one of the choicest evergreen shrubs and very difficult to grow.

Leptospermum scoparium - NEW ZEALAND TEA TREE: MANUKA
The north lower balustrade bed was originally planted with a selection of different Leptospermum scoparium hybrids which included, 'Ruby Glow', 'Nichollsii' and 'Keatleyi'. In 1990 the tender 'Ruby Glow' were killed by the historic 15° low temperatures. L. s. 'Jubilee' is a replacement plant selected for its hardiness. It has double pink flowers that deepen to rose-red. Another common name is Broom Tea Tree because of its bushy character. At Filoli, leptospermums fit with all the other plants selected for outside the garden walls. They are deer-resistant, drought-tolerant, and low-maintenance.

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Main Axis
Main AxisMain Longitudinal Axis: North View.

Main Axis

The main longitudinal hall of the house was aligned to take full advantage of the commanding view of Crystal Springs Lake, the borrowed water feature, and Mr. Bourn's vast land holdings in the watershed. This hall becomes one of the main axes of the garden running up through the Chartres garden and into the panel gardens to the greenhouses. The other longitudinal axis is parallel and runs from the high place with its lost view of Crystal Springs Lake all the way through the walled garden, through the sundial, through the sunken garden and ending on the lower lawn terrace west of the house. Two parallel axes is a unique feature for Filoli compared to other country place gardens where it is more common for the axes to be perpendicular to each other. For a long narrow garden like Filoli, having the two longitudinal axes with its transverse axes (cross paths) gives the stroller many choices in how to navigate, and one doesn't have to retrace the same steps. This makes the experience much richer and makes the garden seem much larger than it really is.

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West Terraces
West Terraces West Terraces
© Saxon Holt.

West Terraces

These terraces were designed to be at the same level as the public rooms of the house and were raised up with the use of retaining walls and balustrades by using the fill from excavating the house. They provided a convenient and inviting link from the house to the gardens from both ends of the longitudinal hall and from the reception room and the dining room. Formal balustrade terraces were meant to be dignified, functional and attractive all year round. They served well for entertaining and provided the space needed for the overflow of guests out onto the lawns.

Lower West Balustrade Beds

The lower balustrade beds were originally beds of mixed evergreen shrubs. The use of annual flowers was kept to a minimum so as not to detract from the spectacular view of the foothills to the west. Shrubs were kept pruned to avoid blocking the view of the Crystal Springs Lake to the north. This part of the garden was not enclosed by garden walls or fencing, so many of the original plants were selected to be resistant to deer and they are very drought-tolerant.

Significant Plantings

Wisterias:
Wisteria sinensis - CHINESE WISTERIA,
Wisteria brachybotrys (venusta) - MURASKI-KAPITAN SILKY WISTERIA, and
Wisteria floribunda - 'Violacea Plena' - DOUBLE-FLOWERED JAPANESE WISTERIA 'VIOLACEA PLENA.'
The wisteria is one of the most significant original plants found growing at Filoli. It was planted throughout the gardens but especially surrounding the house where it was trained up onto the window balconies and portico of the house as a vine and grown as a shrub in the upper and lower terrace beds.

West Terraces, South View West Terraces, South View
© Saxon Holt.

Cotoneaster microphyllus - LITTLE-LEAF COTONEASTER
These plantings originally cascaded down from both sides of the wide set of steps leading to the lower lawn terrace and rooted themselves into the mortar along the way. This method of training vines to decorate and frame stairways was used in ancient Roman gardens and some good examples still exist in some surviving villa gardens in Italy. This original plant can also be found growing along the balustrade and slate paving on the upper northwest terrace. It has beautiful, bright red berries which seem large in comparison to the little leaves. This is a hardy, durable evergreen plant that is drought- tolerant and deer-proof. It was originally planted as an informal border hedge all around the lower terraces as a foundation plant for the low brick wall.

Boxwood hedges
The original common boxwood hedges, Buxus sempervirens, have become very large and are overgrowing the brick walks, reducing access and covering up the beautiful border detail, laid in a soldier course on edge. The boxwood root systems have grown over the top of the brick making renovation difficult, so cuttings are being grown in the greenhouse for eventual replacement.

Punica granatum var. nana - DWARF POMEGRANATE
Charming dwarf variety develops into a densely-twigged shrub with small, narrow leaves that are bronze and glossy when they first appear. Imported by the Domoto Nursery Company.

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Bonsai Collection

Bonsai Collection

Many American country estate owners displayed Japanese decorative arts inside their homes and maintained large scale bonsai in pots on formal terrace balustrades (Larz Anderson Bonsai Collection at Harvard) as garden ornaments. The original juniper bonsai at Filoli remain on the balustrades and at the garden house. In addition to these original plants, Filoli has also accepted donations of two private collections of miniature scale bonsai, which are also displayed on the dining room terrace and on the tennis court. These collections belonged to Martha McAllister (1994) and Gloria F. Brown (1996), both residents of Hillsborough and close friends of Mrs. Roth. These collections were accepted for their beauty but also looking ahead to a day when we might want to use them for teaching bonsai classes at Filoli. Mr. Harry Sakai, a prominent member of the San Mateo Japanese Bonsai Society, and the gardener who had maintained both collections for many years, became a garden volunteer at Filoli and continued to care for them here until 2006, when his health failed. Mr. Sakai made arrangements for Filoli to receive bonsai from other clients and from members of his own society. The new bonsai collections are currently maintained by staff and garden volunteer, Jim Thompson who was trained in Japan. The bonsai have become extremely popular with our visitors and generate many questions. The sun-loving bonsai are grown in the green house area and are brought into the house, dining room terrace and tennis court for display. The collections include maples, ginkgo, pine, juniper, hinoki cypress, spruce and wisteria.

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Service Courtyard
Service CourtyardService Courtyard.

Service Courtyard

Originally, this courtyard contained a laundry yard screened with lattice work, the pergola was covered in grape vines, borders were planted with herbs for the kitchen and there were peach trees planted in the lawn. Today this laundry area is Filoli's retail nursery, offering plants propagated in the greenhouses as well as plants from other specialty growers. This is the best place to view four different types of wisteria when they are in bloom in March and April and the climbing Lady Banks Rose and the Gold of Ophir rose that bloom in April.

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The Garage
The Garagecaption.

The Garage

The garage, with its Christopher Wren inspired Georgian style clock tower with four different clock faces and rooster weathervane, is highly visible from almost all parts of the garden and even from outside the garden walls. Originally, the garage contained the vehicles for the property and also a collection of both Bourn and Roth carriages.

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Camellias and Citrus Collection
Camellias and Citrus CollectionCamellias.

Camellias and Citrus Collection

Mrs. Roth continued to enhance the garden by adding a large collection of camellias as the garden became more shaded. This is the best place to view the large Camellia reticulata 'Captain Rawes', which is being protected from sun by the shade structure, which was erected when a large oak was removed. When the replacement oak gets larger the shade structure will be removed. This is also the best place to see the fall blooming and fragrant Camellia sasanqua 'Plantation Pink' and the espaliered Camellia japonica 'Covina'.

Mrs. Roth originally displayed her collection of potted citrus on the the dining room terrace but today the replacement red oak tree is creating too much shade. The citrus have been moved to this new location and also to the pool pavilion and by the tennis court restrooms. Fortunately citrus are resistant to deer. We expanded on Mrs. Roth's collection and today many of the citrus plants and their pots were donated by Donald Dillon Sr., owner of Four Wind's Growers in Fremont. The Dillon family has been very generous with both their time, their expertise and their plants, helping us to develop an excellent citrus collection. In 1977 the Dillons were instrumental in helping us with the maintenance program we follow today. The citrus collection has become one of the most ornamental features of the garden and generates a lot of questions both in bloom and in fruit.

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