Tulip time at Filoli in Woodside, California

When you are craving tulips, there’s no place like Filoli in March.  Filoli is a country home in Woodside, California, situated on 654 delicious acres of the San Francisco peninsula.  The home, designed and built between 1915 and 1917, is lovely, eclectic, very large, and allows for expansive fantasy habitation.  It is the 16-acre Renaissance garden, however, designed between 1917 and 1929, that brings us back season after season for another look.

In March, it is time for the tulips.


The name Filoli is derived from the credo of the original owner and builder, William Bowers Bourn:   “FIght for a just cause; LOve your fellow man; LIve a good life.  Mr. Bourn made a fortune in the gold-mining business in Grass Valley, California, and also owned the Spring Valley Water Company, the southern tip of which now comprises the Filoli estate.  His home certainly reflects the part about LIving a good life!


In 1975, Mrs. William P. Roth, the owner at that time, donated the house and 125 acres to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and it is now open for visitors between February and October, Tuesday through Sunday.  No picnics or tripods!

So, let’s stroll through the garden take in the tulips.




Since it’s March, there are also rhododendrons,wisteria, and the beginnings of peonies.


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There is a garden shop that uses lively merchandizing to sell plants and other odds and ends.

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Another reason to go to Filoli is the classes.   It is possible to get a certificate in botanical art, floral design, or horticulture.  The decorative arts classes offer unusual subjects like embroidery and porcelain painting.  Just for a laugh, here is how my embroidery looked after a six-hour “White Work in Color” embroidery class taught by the charming Lucy Barter, a graduate of the Royal School of Needlework whose certificate was actually signed by Queen Elizabeth II.   (For you Call the Midwife fans, Chummy is also an alumna of this college.)  It wasn’t Lucy’s fault it looked like this.


This is Miss Ellie’s, who was much more adept.


Well, back to the tulips.


The Volunteer Drought Garden


We are having a drought here in Northern California, so my vegetable boxes went unplanted this summer.  Never fear!  Amaranth seedlings, volunteering from one tiny plant I bought at the farmer’s market a few years ago, have sprung up everywhere and the pendulous spikes of fuzzy magenta flowers now grace my otherwise dreary garden.  What a remarkably versatile plant.  You can cook the grain or eat the leaves or just enjoy the crazy flowers.


In other surprises, two amaryllis plants that were supposed to be dying back (since Christmas) have pushed up marvelous summer blooms.  I suppose that’s the natural thing for them to do, after all.  One is an ordinary red one from Trader Joe’s that is many years old.  The other is a ‘Lady Jane,’ putting on a much better show than it did at Christmas.


The last surprise is the little forest of daylilies that arose from a bulblet cloned by my daughter in freshman biology lab at Mount Holyoke, oh, six years ago now.  For many years we didn’t know what we had as we got only a sad single shoot that would die back.   It probably didn’t help that the poor bulblet had been rattling around in my daughter’s backpack for about three months before resurfacing.

It was fairly discouraging until I was advised by Mike’s Backyard Garden to repot and be patient.  With all that growing and dying back, the five-year-old bulb finally got the oomph to put out a flower and the elegant Stella was born, shown here with Luigi.

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While she was at it, Stella threw off several potfuls of baby bulblets.  I replanted the bulbs and put them outside to brave conditions beyond my indoor intensive care unit.  This year we are watching to see what we will get.  More of the same or an oddball mutation?  The first of this year’s plants has just bloomed!

So, while my drought-stricken garden is bare of tomatoes, we still have some things to watch and cheer along.

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