Thursday, April 8, 2010

Fight Love Liberty

I have visited Filoli quite a few times, almost from the time that it first went "public" a few decades ago. This truly grand estate could well be described as the West Coast bookend, holding up the tradition of grand European garden design and estate gardening in much the same way that Longwood, that other bulwark that shores the tradition up on the East Coast. Much of the year, this sort of garden is lovely enough, elegant and serene and (well) just a tad dullish to my plantsman eyes. But I hadn't bargained on springtime. Jan and I visited Filoli about a week ago, the last day in March and it was almost too much. I start my disquisition with the modest groundcovering of Cyclamen repandum, the lovely spring bloomer from Southern France that I have also seen covering whole slopes of the Taygetos mountains in Greece. This, I believe, is the true French form, and wonderful. In fact, there are naturalistic touches everywhere at Filoli that counterbalance the grandiose vistas and parterres. I especially love the ancient Camperdown elms covered with moss, and the pollarded Plane Trees that remind me of Paris. There are myriad details like this, and masses of magnolias, cherries, espaliered apples galore, huge banks of Camellias in the woods, azaleas and rhododendrons, all in full bloom.

\Here we have dueling Wisteria: white on one wall, lavender on the other. And their fragrance was heady.

I'm sure the tulips and forget-me-nots will be removed in a few weeks and some summer bedding installed.

This section of pareterre consisted of three colors of wallflowers: purple-lavender, orange and bright yellow making a wonderful and probably very long blooming picture.

The herb garden contained an undulating knot garden that I really liked. Of course they've had months of torrential rain and no severe cold snaps, so everything was lush and very happy looking.

Far and away my favorite parterre was filled with Baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii) which one never sees in gardens in Colorado. What an innocent and pure color!
Most of the huge English yews had been heavily pruned: almost savagely pruned. I will not show those because they were rather frightening to look at. I'm sure they will recover in a few months and look full again. But otherwise I have seen so few gardens in such impeccable condition, so lovingly maintained and I don't think even England has many gardens with such concentration of good design and lavish plantings.
I must grudgingly put Filoli in the front ranks of American gardens. Why grudgingly? The lush English style is really the enemy in Colorado where we are trying to encourage xeric and native planting as much as possible. You bring any fledgling gardener to Filoli and they will tell you "This is what I want!".
I smile wanly and think, yes, I too like it. Too.


  1. Spectacular. I notice on the first photo, when viewed full large size, that the Wisteria must be pruned regularly during the growing season to keep it so within bounds, otherwise it would swallow the entire building, the girth of the trunk shows it to be rather old.

    The visual effect of hot cerise tulip blossoms "floating" above a soothing pool of blue forget-me-nots is... unforgettable.

    Thanks for sharing this Mr. Prickly :-)

    Mark McDonough

  2. These are just a very few shots: I must have taken more than a hundred pictures. It was a point and shoot day. Parterre after parterre, all in peak bloom. They do prune and shape everything all the time. I've been there many times, but spring eclipses them all. Glad you liked the pix, Mark.


Featured Post

A garden near lake Tekapo

The crevice garden of Michael Midgley Just a few years old, this crevice garden was designed and built by Michael Midgley, a delightful ...

Blog Archive