When we first arrived at Filoli on Sunday morning, we were warmly greeted by Lucy Tolmach, the Director of Horticulture. A horticulture alumna of the University of Delaware, Lucy has been working at Filoli for more than 20 years. She proceeded to share some delicious homemade muffins with us and introduce us to the Filoli organization.
Filoli originates from America’s Gilded Age when Mr. and Mrs. William Bowers Bourn bought the property located on the south end of Crystal Springs Lake. Mr. Bourn was born for creating Filoli! Lucy told us that all of the design ideas for the gardens and house came from Mr. Bourn, who worked closely with the architects and gardeners during their construction. Mr. Bourn’s often-quoted credo was “fight for a just cause; love your fellow man; live a good life.” In fact, he crafted the name of the estate from the first two letters of the words fight, love, and live.
The Bourn family lived on the estate from 1919 until 1936, when it was sold to Mr. and Mrs. William P. Roth. Mrs. Roth faithfully kept Bourn’s garden design with 29 gardeners, and in 1975, she donated the 654-acre estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Currently, the garden is maintained by 14 staff and more than 200 volunteers – just a fraction of the total of 1,000 volunteers throughout the organization! It would not be overstated to say that Filoli would not survive without the volunteers’ help. Another important element of this garden is its internship program. Mrs. Roth desired that the garden be used to train gardeners, and Lucy has brought the internship program to new heights.
The 16-acre Formal Garden includes the Walled Garden, Sunken Garden, Knot Garden, Rose Garden, and Woodland Garden along the two parallel north-south walks influenced by European style. We also toured part of their Fruit Garden (the biggest private fruit collection in the US) and were treated with samples of yellow raspberries and fragrant, rare strawberries (Alpine x California ‘Marta du Bois’).
The Gardens at Filoli (except the Rose Garden) lack labels because the staff wants to deliver the sense of a private garden’s look and feel. We all thoroughly enjoyed the un-labeled Knot Garden that was intricately planted with lavender and rosemary ball topiaries. At one end of these designs, raised containers held miniature gardens mimicking the pattern of the larger designs on the ground. The masterpiece of Filoli is the formal Sunken Garden, a landscape design typified by the rectangular pool that reflects the Clock Tower image, the goblet shaped olive trees and hedges, and even the mountain backdrop to the west.
We were amazed by what we saw at Filoli, and feel that they are truly living up to their mission:
“ Filoli is dedicated to the preservation, interpretation and stewardship of the cultural traditions and natural history of this country estate for public education and enjoyment.”
Photos by Zoe Panchen