Saturday, September 5, 2009

Filoli Estate and Garden

Filoli house in Woodside, California; the columned main entry is covered in Wisteria and surrounded by Magnolias and Japanese maples.
Driving through the country road surrounded by several hundred years old Coast Live Oaks (Quercus agrifolia), and arriving to a visitors centre surrounded by an olive orchard with rows of gnarled old Mission and Manzanillo Olive trees is an experience that sets your expectations high for things to come. This time, our expectations were not only met but exceeded, as we proceeded through the historical house and gardens of Filoli, located in Woodside 25 miles south of San Francisco, enjoying every minute of our visit. In truth, we liked it so much that on our way up to San Francisco again, we decided to revisit Filoli one more time, just to make sure that we had taken in all of what it has to offer. Despite its European style historical eclecticism that can sometimes seem so out of place in the New World, the Filoli house and gardens form a harmonious whole, built and planned in respect with its magnificent natural environment.
Coast live oaks against a backdrop of fields and hills.
Filoli is one of the finest remaining country estates of the early 20th century in North America. It is a prime example of the California eclectic style and the Golden Era of gardens in North America (about 1890-1940). According to the guides at Filoli, it was built to provide an inspiring vision of a new Eden, with bountiful land, plentiful resources and an emphasis on self-sufficiency. It was built more than sixty years after the California Gold Rush that started a massive migration to Northern California, and ten years after the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco. Both of these large scale events inspired Filoli's owners to create this magnificent estate as a country escape from problems of the crowded and vulnerable life in the city.
Gate to the walled garden and the sunken garden with its reflective pool.
Filoli was built for Mr. and Mrs. William Bowers Bourn, prominent San Franciscans whose chief source of wealth was the Empire Mine, a hard-rock gold mine in Grass Valley, California. Contrary to my thought, there is nothing Italian about the unusual name of Filoli; Mr. Bourn made it up himself by combining the first two letters from the key words of his credo: “Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life.”

Garden house behind the sunken garden.

Mr. Bourn chose longtime friend and prominent San Francisco architect Willis Polk as principal designer for the House. Construction of Filoli began in 1915 and the Bourns moved into the House in 1917. Bruce Porter, an artist and landscape designer together with horticulturalist Isabella Worn were enlisted to help the Bourns' plan the layout of the extensive formal garden that was built between 1917 and 1929. Porter and the Bourns envisioned the house and garden as complementary units, with the north-south axis of the garden echoing the line of the main hall of the house. Inspired by European influences, the garden is a succession of garden rooms containing parterres, terraces, lawns and pools, arranged between the two parallel north-south walks; all typical for large country estates in the USA of this time. Filoli had the distinction of being one of the last country places built on the Peninsula south of San Francisco and the one that has survived the longest in its original design.

One of the many doors leading to the garden from the house.

After Mr. and Mrs. Bourn both died in 1936, the estate was purchased in 1937 by Mr. and Mrs. William P. Roth. At Filoli Mrs. Roth took a great interest in her garden. Isabella Worn, who worked with the Bourns on the original selection of plants for the gardens, came out of semi-retirement to work with Mrs. Roth and continued to come to Filoli until her death at age 81 in 1950. Some of Mrs. Roth's favorite new acquisitions were magnolias, maples, roses, rhododendrons and camellias. Mrs. Roth made the Filoli Garden known worldwide and hosted many distinguished visitors, including botanical and horticultural societies, garden clubs and other organizations. In 1973 Mrs. Roth was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal of the Garden Clubs of America for her achievements as a collector.

The rose garden.

Mrs. Roth made Filoli her home until 1975 when she donated 125 acres, including the house and formal garden, to the National Trust for Historic Preservation for the enjoyment and inspiration of future generations. Now operated by Filoli Center, the 654-acre estate is a California State Historic Landmark and listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

I have compiled and rewritten the historical facts above from the information materials and folders provide by Filoli Center.


Ruben said...

En verkligt förnämlig trädgård! Förstår att det blev ett återbesök på direkten. Det vore ju synd att missa något. Denna trädgård tål att ses från många vinklar, förstår jag av dina bilder och text. /Ruben

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

Absolut, Ruben; Filoli var verkligen världsklass, en verklig pärla; så stilrent och klassiskt. Storslaget, ja, men aldrig påträngande överdådigt, trots att ägarna skulle haft alla möjligheter till det också. Jag njuter av dessa nya miljöer att utforska här.

nilla|utanpunkt said...

En riktig klassiker, vilken symmetri! Mycket stilig.

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

Hej Camellia; verkligen symmetri, som i det här fallet står i en magnifik kontrast mot den storslagna, fria naturen omkring. Stiligt, men inte för överväldiggande, man kunde verkligen se människor att njuta och ha roligt på Filoli på dess glansdagar.