Filoli Gardens in May

What fun is must have been for the children raised in the 1900’s at Filoli Estate. You can just imagine what a kid could do on 654 acres of orchards, fields and gardens creating a maize of places to hide and seek. As gardeners a visit to Filoli Gardens will inspire you to re-imagine what your own garden can be. It’s spring. Here are some of my takeaways from my recent visit to Filoli.

Filoli Gardens is a manicured garden around the mansion and carriage house so the paths are straight and formal. Lined with dwarf boxwood each path encloses a different grouping of plants that change with the seasons. Many of us have meandering paths in our gardens separating the different garden rooms. The elements of garden design, like arrangement of paths, planting beds and open spaces, shape your garden. Your eye is drawn along a path through a garden. The plantings along the sides serve to frame but it’s the style of the path itself that enhances your experience in the garden. Some of the paths at Filoli Garden are gravel, some grass and some brick and mortar. All draw the visitor deeper into the garden to explore and linger at each spot.

Every month there is a different assortment of trees, shrubs, bulbs and vines blooming at Filoli. On this visit the wisteria took center stage. Their fragrance was intoxicating. To keep them in check volunteers keep them pruned tightly. Yes, it’s an ongoing task but the rewards are worth it. I’ll cover wisteria care in another column so you’ll know how to live in peace with your wisteria.

As in any garden, color plays an important role. It’s the wow factor we all go for. At Filoli on my recent visit the foxglove were in full bloom. I liked the apricot ones growing under the wisteria outside the carriage house. But then a bed of dark rose foxglove under another wisteria vine caught my eye. In my humble opinion, the combination could have been enhanced with some white flowers or silver foliage to tone it down but this bed was breathtaking. Everyone was photographing it and posing in front. Something to remember is that light colors like pale pink and blue, creamy yellow and lavender are more vivid in low light or on an overcast day.

Another show stopper was a vivid red azalea blooming throughout the gardens. Even from a long distance you couldn’t help but be drawn to them. Many were planted to be viewed against the dark green foliage of large shrubs and the mature columnar yews. As opposites on the color wheel, red and green are complementary and striking when paired together.

Some of the best beds still had some late blooming tulips. One of my favorite combinations was the softest pink parrot tulips with the purple allium pom pom flowers towering overhead. Another bed featured medium pink tulips, allium, white foxglove and the feathery burgundy foliage of fennel. A nice combination indeed and one you wouldn’t think of normally.

A huge Beni Hoshi flowering cherry was in full bloom with soft pink rhododendrons below. There are so many varieties of rhododendrons that you can have them blooming from March until May. They are long-lived and deer resistant.

Like kids in a candy store, my fellow companions, who are both Master Gardeners, enjoyed every turn at Filoli Gardens. We plan to go back in a couple months for the next rotation of flowering trees, roses and perennials.