Logo for the Journal American Rhododendron Society

Journal American Rhododendron Society

Current Editor:
Dr. Glen Jamieson ars.editor@gmail.com


Volume 60, Number 4
Fall 2006

DLA Ejournal Home | JARS Home | Table of Contents for this issue | Search JARS and other ejournals

Garden Tours: ARS Annual Convention, San Francisco
Jerry Reynolds
Arcata, California

        One of America's great country estates will be focal point for one of several tours being planned for the 2007 ARS convention. The convention, scheduled for April 12 through 15 in the San Francisco Bay Area, is a project of the Northern California chapters of District 5.

Filoli House and Garden
Filoli
Photo courtesy of Filoli House and Garden

Filoli
Filoli House and Garden, located in Woodside, Calif., in the heart of the San Francisco Peninsula, was built between 1915 and 1917 for William Bowers Bourn II and his wife, Agnes Moody Bourn, of San Francisco. The Bourns were prominent San Franciscans who owned the Empire Mine, a hard-rock gold mine in Grass Valley, Calif.
        Filoli - its name is the result of combining the first letters of Mr. Bourn's credo: "Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life" - like the Bourns' San Francisco home and Grass Valley cottage, was designed by San Francisco architect Willis Polk. It is primarily a modified Georgian home, but combines elements of Flemish, Stuart, French and Spanish architecture.
        Bourn also owned a water company that included Crystal Springs Lake, now part of San Francisco's Water Department, and selected a 654-acre parcel at the southern end of the lake for his country estate.
        The house is surrounded by a 16-acre formal garden designed by Bruce Porter. The garden was developed between 1917 and 1921 and reflects both the Bourns' and Porter's appreciation for the natural California landscape despite its distinctly European look.
        Both Bourns died in 1936 and the following year the estate was sold to Mr. and Mrs. William P. Roth of San Francisco, who owned the Matson Navigation Co. They continued to develop the estate and the garden gained international recognition.
        In 1975, Mrs. Roth donated 125 acres of the estate, including the house and garden, to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The remaining acreage was given to the Filoli Center.
        The garden reflects classic French and Italian designs and features a series of rooms containing parterres, terraces, lawns and pools arranged between parallel walks that run north to south.
        Isabella Worn supervised the planting and when the Roths purchased the estate, they retained her to continue the work. She added a variety of plants to the garden, including camellias, rhododendrons, roses, magnolias and other rare plants.
        Filoli garden today is maintained by 14 fulltime horticulturists, student interns and more than 100 garden volunteers.
        The garden should be in peak bloom during the convention tour in April. Expect to see tree peony, spring bulbs, tulips, late daffodils, Magnolia 'Elizabeth', cineraria, apples, scilla, iris, redbud, violas, columbine, wallflowers, forget-me-nots, ceanothus, alliums, Viburnum 'Mariesii' and 'Snowflake', dogwoods, choisya, wisteria, loropetalum, Clematis montana, azaleas, rhododendrons, lilacs, weigela, old roses including Rosa 'Gold of Ophir' and Rosa 'Lady Banks', cherries, Camperdown elm, foxgloves, dianthus, and ornamental vegetables in bloom.
        You will have time to tour the house and to stroll through the Kitchen Garden, the Walled Garden, the Cut Garden (which supplies the flowers for the beautiful arrangements you will see during your visit to the house), Yew Allée (the Irish yews were grown from cuttings taken at Muckross House, the Bourn property in Ireland), and the Woodland Garden where camellias and rhododendrons and a rare collection of Japanese maples are featured.
        Among the unusual and interesting plants you will see are coast live oaks (Quercus agrifolia) which are several hundred years old, a Chilean myrtle (Luma apiculata) with cinnamon-colored bark, the rare mountain camellias (Camellia reticulata), and dawn redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostroboides).
        The Dutch Garden features a rare specimen of New Zealand black beech (Nothofagus solandri) and the Old Rose Garden contains many old cultivars.
        The house has 36,000 square feet in two stories and a mezzanine. There are 43 rooms and 17 fireplaces. The major rooms are spacious and have 17-foot ceilings, while the large ballroom has a ceiling of 22 feet. The plan is a U-shape with servants' quarters on one side of the front courtyard, balanced by the ballroom on the other side.
        The long Transverse Hallway in the house runs north to south, parallel to the valley in which the house is set. The major rooms of the house and the gardens are oriented on this same axis.
        An olive orchard to the east of the house separates the formal garden and house from the agricultural fields. Further east, an orchard of some 1,000 trees was planted in 1918 to provide dessert fruits for the Bourns. Some 150 of the trees remain and are being preserved, along with a newly planted collection of rare period fruit cultivars. The orchard is not open to the public except during the annual Fall Festival.
        Filoli House and Garden is open Tuesday through Saturday from mid- February to late October.

The day-long tour also includes visits to three private gardens.

The garden of 
Tim Duran.
The garden of Tim Duran.
Photo by Tim Duran

Tim Duran Garden
Tim Duran conceived and planted his garden between 1980 and 1986, building it around an existing grove of redwood trees and a few other large trees that had been planted by the original owners of the property. Large areas of the site have been left in natural vegetation - some might call them weeds - interspersed with low-maintenance California natives and various junipers.
        Landscaping around the main house is in direct contrast to the balance of the property, consisting of rhododendrons (several now in excess of 12 feet), a number of azaleas around the lawn and a new rhododendron hillside above the lawn.
        The balance of the garden is a "working property" consisting of 10 pear trees, five apple trees, nine plum trees and a number of kiwi vines and citrus trees.
        Being somewhat eclectic, Tim has added bananas and persimmons to his collection and is now experimenting with witch hazel. He also has added some 80 rhododendrons to the collection in the last two years, including many species, along with a number of vintage roses.
        A retired art dealer, Tim has a number of large sculptures located throughout the garden, using the landscaping to accentuate the works of art.
        Best described as a "spring" garden, convention goers will be visiting the Duran garden during what he calls its "best time."

The garden of Bee and 
Paul Brown
The garden of Bee and Paul Brown.
Photo courtesy of the Browns

Bee and Paul Brown Garden
Bee and Paul Brown purchased their five-acre property in 1995. It mostly faces southwest, with a fairly steep gradient sloping down to a creek. There were a number of mature oaks, three camellias, and dozens of junipers. Otherwise, the property had not been landscaped.
        With the exception of some brickwork, all of the landscaping that has followed has been done by the Browns with the help of their Saturday gardener, Mario Magana, his two sons and other family members.
        The Browns began by removing the junipers and many stands of poison oak and grease bush. They then deer-fenced about three acres and planted one acre to merlot grapes. The barn was converted into a small winery and today the Browns produce about 200 cases each year.
        In terms of a landscape design, the Browns say they simply took the path of least resistance, building dry-wall terraces with Napa Valley grey head stones to create small manageable gardens. In 1997, a friend was excavating his basement and needed a place to dump the clay, so the Browns used the clay as backfill for the terraces and to create a large flat area for both a lawn and herbaceous border. They mixed lots of wood chips into the clay and it has proven to be surprisingly hospitable to plants - even the rhododendrons and azaleas.
        Over the last 10 years, the Browns have planted more than 100 rhododendrons, more than 100 azaleas, 25 magnolias of various kinds, a rose garden and an olive grove. They add more wood chips as mulch each year. The soil is still not friable, says Bee Brown, but the plants nevertheless do well. They use no pesticides, rarely fertilize and depend on the wood chips to keep the weeds at bay.
        The garden is watered by overhead sprinklers installed by Magana. They go on three times each week for 20 minutes and when it is very hot weather, the cycle is increased manually.
        Outside the deer fence, the Browns grow a large variety of deer-resistant plants, including rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias, hellebores and euphorbia. Within the deer fence, the nuisances are rabbits and gophers.
        A greater problem is over planting, a product of their early enthusiasm, says Bee. Now many plants need to be pruned constantly and others need to be moved. Adds Bee, "I often think the garden is constantly on the move!"

The garden of Burt 
and Belinda Brent
The garden of Burt and Belinda Brent.
Photo courtesy of the Brents

Burt and Belinda Brent Garden
Burt and Belinda Brent actually started their garden in Portola Valley while living in Scotland, where they spent two years at Bearsden, a suburb of Glasgow, while Burt was a Fellow in Plastic Surgery at the famed Canniesburn Hospital.
        While there, the Brents spent a lot of time with family friends Jane and Ernest Nelson, who had a large property near Oban, Scotland. Ernest's mother was a member of the Balfour family, which was heavily into hybridizing rhododendrons in the late 1800s. Ernest kept the tradition going at Achnacloich, which had been the family's summer home.
        After more than 100 years, Achnacloich has a noteworthy and beautiful rhododendron garden, which is on the Scotland Garden Tour. Some ARS members may have visited the garden during the convention held in Oban.
        When the Brents returned to California in 1979, they began to design and plant their own rhododendron garden on a property in the Portola Valley south of San Francisco. Today, they have more than 400 rhododendrons and azaleas, some of which are 40 feet tall.
        The Brent garden is planted to replicate a Scottish country garden. There are "wet" sections with Siberian, Louisiana, Japanese and English iris and "dry" sections with bearded iris. There are also a fair number of dogwood trees and magnolias. They also kept the apple orchard that was on the property when they bought it, adding some 4,000 daffodils among the trees. The daffodils have continued to multiply each year and the Brents have kept the ground cover natural as a meadow of clover and wildflowers. There are two live oaks believed to be about 200 years old and a valley oak that is about 250 years old. The entire property is surrounded by Corte Madera Creek, which flows year-round.
        Behind the Art Studio, the Brents have planted a kitchen garden that includes vegetables and herbs. This garden flows into a grove of redwood trees where deer, bobcats and numerous species of birds roam freely.
        Jane Nelson spent some time in the Brent garden last year and planted a few more daffodils as a tribute to their garden. In turn, the Brents visited Achnacloich last May to spend some time in the Nelson's magnificent garden and to hike among the Scottish Highland cattle, which is the oldest herd in the world.

Jerry Reynolds, a member of the Eureka Chapter, is chair of the ARS Publicity and Public Relations Committee.


Volume 60, Number 4
Fall 2006

DLA Ejournal Home | JARS Home | Table of Contents for this issue | Search JARS and other ejournals