Great American Gardens - Filoli, California

I'd heard so much about Filoli before I went there that I wondered whether it would live up to my expectations, especially after my recent visit to Viscaya. But it did, because there's no doubt that it's a really beautiful garden. From the moment you arrive and walk through the olive grove to access the main gardens, you are aware that this property is different .... very different from others! It has sweeping vistas across open countryside; wonderful planting and you get caught up in a huge stage set.

Located just 30 miles of San Francisco, the mansion that forms the central focus of Filoli was built for William Bowers Bourn II and his wife in 1915. Bourn made his money from gold mining, and it is his credo: "Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live for a just cause", that gave the property its name FI-LO-LI. The estate covers some 650 acres, but it's the 16 acres of formal gardens surrounding the Georgian-style house that visitors come for.

When the Bourns died in 1936, Filoli was bought by another wealthy Californian magnate, William Roth, who owned the Matson Navigation Company, and under the stewardship of his wife, Lurline (who is commemorated on a plaque in the garden), the gardens were further developed, and became recognised as one of the great formal gardens of America. In 1975, Lurline Roth donated the house and 125 acres to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and they continue to maintain the property today with the help of committed volunteers. Today, Filoli is classed as one of the great gardens of the world.

It doesn't matter where you look in Filoli, there is always a magnificent view, like the one above - looking up towards the High Place from the Walled Garden. The extensive formal gardens are divided into terraces, a Sunken Garden, Walled Garden, Yew Walkway and swimming pool pavilion, to name just a few, but what will strike you about this garden, is that is immaculately maintained, glorious to walk in, and will lift your spirits.

I visited earlier this month, so the emphasis was on spring flowers - many coming into bloom - and acres of daffodils, blowing in the breeze, wonderful magnolias and camellias. But what is so clever about the planning and planting at Filoli, is that it won't matter what time of year you visit - there will always be something in bloom. This is a garden that you need to visit and re-visit, because it will never look the same. It goes straight to the top of my US garden list, but perhaps that's because it reminds me of England!
I'm leaving for North Carolina today (if the weather permits) and hope to see some gardens there, but Filoli is the garden that sticks in my mind right now!


  1. They look amazing, would love to visit it. lovely photos to,do you know what those amazing sculptural looking trees are is the second photo down?

  2. wow Lottie, another beautiful garden. I wonder about those trees/ shrubs in the one picture...severe pruning?
    Safe travels, we are having just a little rain off and on- think your travel plans will be fine.

  3. It is SNOWING here - right now outside my window - in North Carolina today! Not a good time for visiting gardens, so good luck with you on that.

    This is a great post on Filoli. I've never been and your history lesson and photos provide lots of reasons to visit there on my next trip out to SF.


  4. Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, but I don't know if you'll be happy with the weather in NC this week lol. it's been a bit chilly and rainy...snowy in some parts last night I heard :) But those sure are beautiful photos of the Filoli gardens! Better than the gloomy view out my window lol

  5. Wow! What a beaty!

    I'm in NC. The weather has been spotty. Today is beautiful though. We have some crocus a few daffs doing their thing. Are you planning on seeing the Builtmore Estate?

  6. That does look like a beautiful, peaceful place.

  7. Had to grin when I saw this post and the last one - I too just visited Filoli (post coming up within the week) and the Gamble Garden (my latest post). I think I took one of the same Filoli daffodil photos, even! Isn't it an interesting place? A bit too formal for my personal taste but fascinating all the same. Hope you enjoy North Carolina, don't miss the Sarah Duke Gardens if you're in that area, and my favorite is Montrose if you can schedule a visit.

  8. Isn't Filoli amazing? We're so lucky to have it so close to us here. I meet so many people that live in the Bay Area that have never been there, and that's such a shame. I'm so glad you had a chance to visit it. It's a wonderful place to go for inspiration, or simply to just enjoy the beauty of the gardens.

  9. What a GORGEOUS place!!! This makes me want to throw daffodil bulbs all over my lawn and justs let them do their thing!!!

  10. Lovely visit enjoy your next stop.

  11. Hello,
    Nice post! Love to go there one day!

    I see you like words just like me:-)
    It's a pity that Google translates my blog so poorly, I can see that most of my carefully chosen words will be lost in translation;-) Luckily photos are universal.

    (I tell you this in advance, should you visit:-)

    Im a garden designer in STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN looking for garden bloggers to be inspired from, and you seem to have a inspiring blog:-)

    Have a nice day, cheers from Hillevissan

  12. The formal gardens are so beautiful. I would love to visit this garden myself. I can only imagine what I would do with 650 acres to garden in though ;^)

  13. Shame on me, I could drive to see Filoli, and haven't done it yet, while you have crossed the ocean and have visited there.
    One day I will visit. What are those strangely pruned trees in the second photo?

  14. Very unique structures. I seem like i've seen the place through your photos. thank you and a happy weekend.

  15. Love the second pic with the 'sticky' sort of things. What are those?

  16. I cannot believe that we have lived in SF for over 2 years and not been to this place. I am kicking myself now. Matti

  17. Hi Charlotte, I believe you have gone to the best garden in the US too soon! All others will pale by comparison. And maybe you have hit upon its allure, an English Garden on US soil! I have never been there, just live through photos and thanks so much for yours, although I have been to SF a few times. Shame on me for not seeking out Filoli. Next time for sure.

  18. Just stumbled upon your Filoli post and memories of sunshine and daffodils rushed back. I've only visited once, ironically about a week before this post. I felt like I'd landed in heaven, after all the snow and cold I'd left behind at home that week. One woman commented that I looked dazed. :) All that sunshine and glowing daffodils. Amazing. I'm off to find my photos from that trip. Thanks for the memories.


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