Woodside, California
September 2007

Filoli is a spectacular example of a grand estate garden, rivaling any estates I’ve visited in England. It is all very formal and designed, with a European flavor that is evident in both the design and the naming of features. This is evident to the visitor immediately. One side of the parking lot bordered by “The Gentlemen’s Orchard”. The very name smacks of European nobility. On the opposite side of the parking lot, the trail to the entrance meanders through an old olive grove to a modern brick visitor center, which seemed very functional.

The building is isolated enough from the rest of the site that its modern, utilitarian character didn’t detract and all the staff were extremely pleasant and helpful. There’s a small room where they show an interesting film on the history of Filoli.

An attractive allee of sycamores made the entrance to the gardens obvious.

It brought us into a hubbub of activity at the retail nursery and garden shop.

I prefer gardens that encourage you to exit through retail areas rather than enter through them because when I arrive I’m anxious to see the garden and don’t want to be distracted, so after a brief period of distraction we made our way through to the “Sunken Garden”. This is a very symmetrical garden, with manicured lawns, tightly trimmed hedges and formal ponds. Everything is managed to perfection. The design also manages to capture great views through the garden to the mountains in the distance. However, because of massive hedges and walls you can see almost nothing of the rest of the gardens, an interesting design feature.

The garden’s are a series of rooms, divided by Irish Yew hedges or walls. The giant dark hedges make a much more imposing barrier than brick walls. Each garden room displays a different gardening theme but all are beautiful and open, and because they are so visually separated from one another, each is a surprise when you enter.

Making our way from the Sunken Garden into the Walled Garden, the first feature we encounter is the Chartres Garden.
Chartres Garden
According to the interpretation, this garden replicates, in living plants, a stained glass window from Chartres Cathedral near Paris. The trimmed boxwood and standard roses, surrounded by colorful annuals, makes a stunning display, but I guess you need an aerial view to see the stained glass scene. I admire the ambitious intent and for me, it worked as a beautiful garden anyway. You leave the walled garden through an allee of massive Irish Yews.

The areas of most interest are different in late fall than they would be in spring or summer. At this time of year, the Daffodil Meadow, Dutch Garden and Cutting Garden were recognizable only by their signs. Fortunately, the Rose Garden was still in abundant bloom.
Rose Garden
Roses are not my favorite flowers but the fragrance is always a treat. I particularly liked that these roses were very well labeled so even an amateur like me could know which I liked best.

Even this late in the year the Woodland Garden was abuzz with mosquitoes. We were unprepared so passed quickly through. Keep this in mind for your visit.

We exited through the manor house. It's a pretty spectacular place, with 43 rooms and 17 fireplaces! The hardwood floors, murals on the walls and beautiful period furniture are something to see.

Manor House

The whole experience of Filoli is something special. This is a garden worth going far out of your way to see.

here to see more photos of Filoli.

To visit the official website of Filoli, click

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