As we drove onto the former property of successful gold miners Mr. and Mrs. William Bourn, we knew it was a special place. The silvery foliage of the mature Olea europaea (olive) trees that line the parking lot were our first impressive clue to the experience that would unfold as the day continued. These trees were planted around 1918, and are part of the original plantings on Filoli property.
Mr. and Mrs. Bourn died in 1936, and the land and house were bought by Mr. and Mrs. William Roth. In 1975, Mrs. Roth donated her home and some of the land to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the rest of the 650 acres was donated to the entirely volunteer-run Filoli Center. The house and garden now have paid staff, but the volunteers are intensively trained and still play an important and critical role in the stewardship of the property.
We first met with our gracious hosts for the day: Alex Fernandez, Manager of Horticultural Operations, and Jim Salyards, Manager of Horticultural Collections and Education. Alex and Jim soon led us to a room where each half-hour a new staff member came in to talk to us aspiring garden administrators about their roles at Filoli. It was a very interesting morning, and their enthusiasm for the house and garden was so evident that after lunch, we were eager to explore.
The greenhouses, 17 acres of formal gardens, and 8 orchards are meticulously managed by 14 full-time garden staff. We ran into former Longwood Gardens Intern Doug Sederholm, now a gardener in Filoli’s cut flower garden. His area is bursting with continuous color during growing seasons so that the 24 flower arrangements throughout the house can be refreshed weekly.
Filoli also has a strong education component; with approximately 6,000 student visitors per year and 2,500 adult learners attending their 200 programs. They concentrate on horticulture, art, history, and preservation, with certificates in a very prestigious botanical art program (learn more about the Filoli’s Florilegium), floral design, and horticulture.
And the house! Designed by architect Willis Polk and built between 1915-1917, the house is an eclectic mix of architectural styles, and currently serves as a museum for 17th and 18th century English antiques. Detailed scenes of Muckross, an Irish estate, are painted directly onto the giant walls of he ballroom. Much of the furniture is carved with curves, or intricately inlaid with several types of wood. Fireplaces, floors, and the elegant stairway were carved out of marble.
As the garden closed for the day, we were grateful for the time the staff spent with us and for the chance to see a quality garden in action. Our drive down the coast continued as we anticipated the next day’s adventure: Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Blog by Sara Helm Wallaceand photos by Gary Shanks