14 Weeks at Filoli: A Tour of the Entry Courtyard

Filoli opened last Tuesday, so when I arrived for class, I was greeted by pots of daffodils everywhere. But this isn’t my first formal garden rodeo–I know this is just a taste of what’s to come when the tulips start.

With a little more freedom to wander the gardens, and a few free minutes before class, I decided to take a little detour to the entry courtyard.

Filoli is known for its amazing bulb displays. Thousands of daffodils and tulips are planted every year, along with the thousands upon thousands of daffodils already naturalized in the orchards and woods around Filoli. Think there’s a bare spot the gardeners might have missed? Just wait!

The entry courtyard seems designed around a spring show. Many of the camellias have already begun to bloom, and the magnolias are just starting. When the magnolias have reached full bloom, the late spring camellias and wisteria will jump in.

Usually the pink type is the one called “saucer” magnolia or tulip tree, but honestly the whole family is so complicated and full of cross breeding, it’s hard to keep them straight unless you’re strict about their latin names.

Hellebores provide a lot of winter interest in the courtyard. These Helleborus argutifolius are as tall as, or perhaps a little taller than the boxwood hedge. The boxwood hedge is probably aggressively pruned to keep it to the right size for this effect. These shrub-like hellebores are much more substantial than the colorful ones in my garden.

The dark foliage of camellias is the perfect backdrop to the monotone hellebores, and anchor the garden until the magnolias leaf out. Some camellias flower early and some flower later, so using several varieties together lends an amazing one-two punch of spring color. There are just a few early types beginning to bloom now, but there are a number of them around the courtyard that will take their turns stepping out over the next few weeks. Camellias are such hard workers in a garden, and a Filoli pruning workshop is where I first learned to appreciate their incredible utility so many years ago. There are hundreds of them throughout the estate.

Filoli also provides both inspiration and cautionary examples of wisteria in the garden. Yes, they are absolutely gorgeous. But take careful note of the giant masonry bolts used to anchor these behemoths! Wisteria requires careful planning to give it the support it needs.

wisteria frame

Meticulously pruned wisteria frames the entry portico.

About 9:15 in the morning. Still definitely winter light. I love how the shadows fall over this obsessively angular hedge.

Light slants across the courtyard over perfectly angled hedges.

Light slants across the courtyard over perfectly angled hedges.

Each week we walk through this allee of sycamores to the side entry. This technique of whacking every branch of a sycamore down to knuckles is called “pollarding” and you see it all the time in formal european gardens, particularly in France. Pollarded sycamores and gold decomposed granite are kind of de rigeur for the French park scene.

pollarded sycamores

Pollarded sycamores still show no signs of spring.

I totally want to make twig furniture like this out of all of the random sticks in my garden. You know, in all my extra spare time. Now that the Garden Shop on the patio is open, I’m looking forward to exploring it more.

twig furniture

Twig furniture for sale on the south east patio.

These vines are my favorite alternative for wisteria, when a design can’t support the weight or pruning requirements of the original. I’ve also seen Happy Wanderer used as a groundcover/shrub in the Santa Cruz area, and I think it looks amazing.


Hardenbergia ‘Happy Wanderer’ vines for sale. Look at this bloom in early February!

Flowering maples, another hard worker in my garden, when I can keep the deer away from it. This raspberry color is just delicious.

flowering maple

Abutilon, or flowering maple, for sale on the patio.

teak furniture

This is some sort of recycled plastic wood, but it looks just like teak! From a distance.

Time to quit fooling around! Class is starting.

servants stair

Up…and up…

botanical art room

The classroom. Those massive drafting lights are for the botanical art students.

The goal of the Filoli estate is preservation, so even though this room is used for classes, all of the original architectural details are preserved. The fireplace mantels, wall panelling, and all the original bathroom fixtures and details are still just as they were in the hands of the Roths. Including the original push-button lights! The table used for coffee was installed right over the bathtub.

Every effort has been made to preserve the original fixtures.

Every effort has been made to preserve the original fixtures.

Old-fashioned button switches control all the lights.

Old-fashioned button switches control all the lights.

A little light reading for the garden-obsessed.

Reading up on everything you never wanted to know about bacterial canker and soil pathogens.

Reading up on everything you never wanted to know about bacterial canker and soil pathogens.


Because I’m currently obsessed with bathroom remodeling, so I assume everyone else wants photos, too!

Might have seemed over the top back then, but today's high-end houses flash more marble than this.

Might have seemed over the top back then, but the acres of marble seem tame by comparison to some local high-end homes.

View of the bathroom off the classroom. This must have been Mr. Roth's.

View of the bathroom off the classroom. This must have been Mr. Roth’s.

And this is the view out the window from the back of the classroom, right over the reflecting pool. How inspiring is that? Hope you enjoyed the tour!

classroom view

View of the formal gardens from the classroom.

One thought

  1. Pingback: 14 Weeks at Filoli: UC Master Gardener Program « Greenwood Landscape Design

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