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Today is the last day for Fashionable Filoli, historic costumes in the House.

What’s Blooming

More Information
Blooming Calendar
Blooming Calendar

Find out what’s blooming at Filoli from January to December.

Garden Information

Learn about Filoli plants and gardening practices—ask the experts.

Plant Highlights This Week

Flowers are one of the most pronounced markers of the progression of time in a garden. Each month we scout the Garden for amazing blooms and feature our favorites here. Check back often to see what we have in store for your next visit to Filoli.

sunkengardenThe summer annuals of the Sunken Garden are still looking fantastic as the end of the season draws near. Perhaps it is the healthy soil from our improved composting program and the organic fertilizers. (Please try to ignore the turf renovation happening in the Sunken lawns- fall is lawn renovation time...)

hydrangeaThe interior Dutch Garden beds are looking fantastic. More work is to come on the outer tawhiwhi (Pittosporum tenuifolium) hedge.

petuniasThe rich, changing colors of the hydrangea flowers are something to behold!

bellbedsThe “Ladies of Autumn”, designed for our Autumn Festival, are here to greet as you drive in from the gate, and make your way to the Visitor Center landing area. These lovely vignettes were created by a team of volunteers from our Floral Design committee.

Garden Happenings
Week of September 19 - September 25, 2016

This Saturday, September 24, is Filoli’s spectacular Autumn Festival.  Dozens of activities for kids and adults occur throughout the day. Horticulturally, some of the highlights will be the opportunity to tour our Gentlemen’s orchard, and to taste heirloom apple, pear and grape varieties from our fruit collection, Filoli’s largest plant collection.

New Plantings:
Next week, on the heels of the Autumn Festival, we will begin pulling the summer beds and planting the Spring 2017 display. Our bulb order will arrive the week of October 10, so in preparation for planting, we will pull and ready the soil for planting, and where necessary, hedge the boxwood parterres. The planting order will be based on which annual crops are ready for planting, with the Chartres Beds and Sunken Garden being two of the first beds to go.

Summer Sculpture Exhibit:
Our third annual summer sculpture exhibit is in its last month in the garden. Look for blown glass pieces by Cristy Alyosi and Scott Graham; metal sculpture by Anna Martin, Patricia Vader and Alex Nolan-Justin Grant; concrete and clay pieces by David Putnam and John Toki; and two, mixed metal and glass pieces by Rik Ritchey.


Plant Highlights:

The summer display is one of the best in terms of longevity in recent memory: very few annuals have faded or succumbed to late summer diseases as has often been the case in the past. The Sunken annuals are stunning. The Chartres, Garden House, Bell Beds and Sundial are all looking great. The begonias throughout the garden are also in peak bloom, and will continue to get better throughout the remainder of the season.

One of the more unusual beds for summer is the Bell Beds, planted in the style of a Victory Garden. Though intended to be highly ornamental, the bed is planted with tall, ornamental, purple peppers, grey ‘Lacinato’ kale, and red and green savoy cabbages. Some of the green cabbages have become so big that they have begun to split open a bit, although Percy the peacock’s grazing on the plants might have contributed to the splitting. The display has provoked many interested comments from guests and volunteers.  

The stunning light and dark blue salvias (gentian sage: Salvia patens ‘Patio Sky Blue’ and ‘Patio Deep Blue’) in the Garage Beds are in full bloom. The display is quite striking, with the two lovely shades of blue.
The summer display pots are out in all locations throughout the garden including pots of geraniums, petunias, zinnias, impatiens and begonias.

The Rose Garden has reached its late summer peak with nearly all shrubs in bloom and loaded with flowers.

Although the Cutting Garden has begun to fade somewhat, there are still many beautiful beds like the dahlias, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, lisianthus/eustoma, and the fall color of the herbaceous peonies.

The Kitchen Garden has filled in nicely with the array of vegetables, herbs, fruits (strawberries) and flowers. Peppers, strawberries, tomatoes and many others are fruiting away right now. We’ve also begun planting some of the fall veggies like kale and Brussels sprouts. The tall sunflowers have mostly faded, but we will allow the heads to mature, which will soon bring scads of birds feeding on the rich seeds.  

Several summer vines around the garden are blooming, many in the Sunken Garden area: trumpet vine (Campsis x tagliabuana ‘Madame Galen’), Chilean bellflower (Lapageria rosea ‘Alba), and Chilean jasmine (Mandevilla laxa).

Autumn is definitely in the air!  Some of the early-to-turn trees, particularly the peaches and nectarines in the Panel Garden, are beginning to show fall color. There are autumn bloomers that are also in flower, like the Japanese anemone, the silver lace vine (Fallopia aubertii) and Cyclamen hederifolium.

The hydrangea beds are all in full bloom and full of color.

Thus far, we have sent several loads of fruit to Hurley Farms kitchens to be made into jam and butters. These are available in the shop right now!  In addition to some of the single-variety butters we’ll do this year, we will be doing mixes of early, mid, and late season blends. These will be fun to compare at the Autumn Festival and Holiday Traditions.

We have also begun distributing fruit to Second Harvest Food Bank, which helps disadvantaged people in the Bay Area. In August, we sent nearly 600 pounds to the food bank.

Fall lawn work has begun for the season. The lawns we are renovating include the Sunken Garden pool lawns, the Swimming Pool lawns, and the Yew Allée. For the Yew Allée, we are going to the next phase of trialing the best performing turf variety from our trials, the ‘No Mow Fescue Mix’ from Prairie Nursery. These trials still have at least another year to go before they are conclusive, but the ‘No Mow’ seems extremely promising for our conditions. We feel its performance thus far warrants the next stage of evaluation.

Fall turf renovation.
Tending to summer annual beds.
Fruit picking.

Notes and Common Questions

Dutch Project

The renovation of the Dutch Garden began last fall with pulling the four inner beds of the garden, redoing the alignment of the main paths, installing new header board, and replanting the boxwood hedge. This spring, the remaining beds were removed and new header and boxwood was installed. We then embarked on renovating the tawhiwhi (Pittosporum tenuifolium) hedge.

Because the Dutch Garden began as a sunny garden room, the tawhiwhi was a good choice for a tall hedge species that enclosed this garden room. Over the past fifty years, as the oak, camellias, and New Zealand beech trees have matured, sections of the hedge have not done as well, and in places, the boxwood has done much better. Additionally, in the sunny (eastern) sections, the hedge became overgrown and out of scale. To bring all of the sections into scale, the eastern and southern sections of the hedge were renovated. The hope was that the tawhiwhi would sprout well and then could be retrained into the proper size and scale.

Unfortunately, only some of the plants sprouted well from these cuts. Therefore, we have cut most of the east side shrubs to the ground. We are in the midst of propagating new plants from cuttings taken from the plants that have sprouted. Later this year we will be grinding out the stumps of the old plants, and will eventually be planting new tawhiwhi plants to replace the original ones. It will take several years until the enclosing hedge is reestablished, but it will hopefully last well into the 22nd century doing just that.

New (2016) Plantings
During the past two drought years, we have refrained from planting woody plants in the garden. This year, hopeful that El Niño will at least bring normal rain, we have started to do some planting. Over thirty new roses have been either donated, by Star Roses, or purchased from Edmunds’ Roses for the Rose Garden and Chartres. Some of the new roses in the Rose Garden include ‘Grande Dame’, ‘St Patrick’, ‘Elina’, ‘Dee-Lish’, ‘Icecap’ and ‘Betty White’.

We also plan to fill some of the openings in the Gentlemen’s orchard that have occurred the past two years due to loss from fireblight and other causes. Because we waited to see how wet the winter turned out, we missed the opportunity to buy more than a few trees because many of the growers were sold out. This fall we will put in a bigger order and plant several trees next winter.

Turf and Turf Trials
Recently, the Garden Information Docents were asked about the turf grass varieties that Filoli uses. Historically, we have used four different types: perennial rye, creeping red fescue (CRF), tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass. Typically, the Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue were used as individual varieties in specific applications. The perennial rye and CRF were mixed and used in many locations around the garden. The advantage of this mix was that the perennial rye grows well in sunnier and drier microclimates, and the CRF in the shadier and moister areas.

The past few years, we have been using a pre-mixed blend from Pacific Coast Seed called ‘Pacific Showcase’. This mix is made up of Kentucky bluegrass, perennial rye and fine fescue. Again, this blend works well for the microclimates found around the garden, i.e., the cooler, coastal area of northern California.

After a few years of below average rainfall, we have decided we need to educate ourselves on some of turf varieties that might grow well for us with less water. In the North Lawn, one we have let go completely dry the past two years, we have sown or planted 10’ x 12’ blocks for a formal turf trial. The twelve species and blends that we testing are:

1. June grass (Koeleria macrantha)
2. Seashore bentgrass (Agrostis pallens)
3. U.C. Verde buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides)
4. Hachita blue gramma grass (Bouteloua gracilis ‘Hachita’)
5. Purple needlegrass (Stipa pulchra)
6. Pacific hair grass (Deschampsia cespitosa)
7. Molate red fescue (Festuca rubra ‘Molate’)
8. Pacific Coast Seed— Native Ornamental Fine Fescue Blend
9. High Country Gardens— Low Work & Water Fescue Mix
10. Prairie Nursery— No Mow Fescue Mix
11. Barenburg- Water Saver Rhizomatous Tall Fescue Mix
12. California meadow sedge (Carex pansa)

Each block and variety will have corresponding signs telling more about the variety. We will also have similar information about the trial and varieties on the Filoli website.

The intent for the trial is to find one or more that might work for some of our turf areas. In particular, we are looking at areas that are less formal or receive foot traffic. For example, it would be ideal to find a replacement for the turf running down the Yew Allée that gives the green color, but doesn’t require as much water or needs to be mowed weekly. Look back over the course of the summer and coming year for our evaluation of these varieties.

Drought / El Niño Status
With a final measurement of over 36” of rain for the 2015-16 season, which is above the seasonal average of 33.5”, we have made the call to maintain our irrigation as we have typically done in a normal rainfall year. Therefore, all the lawns will be irrigated at their normal rates. Where we will reduce irrigation rates this year somewhat are some of our woody shrub plantings. We won’t return to the 100% “thrive” mode of pre-2014, but will irrigate above the 40% reduction of the past two “survive” years.

Bloomin’ Bucks Program
Whenever visitors, volunteers or anyone else asks about where Filoli purchases our bulbs, after telling them that the bulk of our bulbs are purchased wholesale from the Netherlands, I tell them the best retail vendor in the US that I know is Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. Brent Heath’s family has long been in the bulb business and because of their lasting relationships with the Dutch growers, Brent and Becky are able to sell top quality bulbs. If Filoli could afford to buy all of their bulbs from this company, we would.  

As part of the company’s commitment to public gardens, schools and other non-profits, Brent and Becky established the Bloomin’ Bucks program. With each purchase from Brent and Becky’s through the program, the designated non-profit receives 25% of the funds. Filoli is a participant in this program. So, if you’re planning to order bulbs this year, and like Brent and Becky’s products, please go to the Bloomin’ Bucks page ( to start your purchase by choosing Filoli as your non-profit of choice. From there, you will be sent to the regular Brent and Becky’s Bulbs website to start your shopping.

Written by Jim Salyards, Filoli’s Head of Horticulture