Renaissance-style Gardens

March 4, 2012 by staff 

Renaissance-style Gardens, English Renaissance Style to the South
On the other side of the house to the south, the Bourns created a private English Renaissance style garden which was planned as one unit in connection with the house. The house and garden design, linked by two parallel axes, was unusual; few examples can be found outside of Italy. Most surviving American country estate gardens have one axis or perpendicular axes which are usually aligned with one or two perpendicular halls of the houses. Two parallel axes make more sense in a long narrow garden where the halls of the house are also parallel.

At Filoli one axis starts at the top of a classical yew theater, called the High Place, where the lake could originally be viewed. It leads down a long allée of Irish yew trees to the brick walk dividing the center of the walled garden, to the walk leading through the west end of the sunken garden and connects to the lower terrace walk on the west side of the house. The other parallel axis is a long English style garden walk linking the house from the dining room terrace, along the brick walk looking down on the sunken garden past the wall of the garage, through the east end of the walled garden, rose garden, and cutting garden, finally terminating where the long walk originally ended in a formal row of Lombardy poplars. Several crosswalks linking these two parallel axes at strategic places provide interesting possibilities for circumnavigating the garden without having to retrace any steps.

English Garden Features
As with the house, the garden is organized and divided into rooms with different functions. The formal sunken garden with its garden pavilion and terrace, bowling green, walled garden, woodland garden, tennis court, and rose garden were designed for display and various leisure and recreational uses. A formal allée of Irish yew trees links the formal garden rooms to the formal yew theater at the top of the allée called the High Place.

The best plant growing location, up in the south end of the garden, was reserved for the large working kitchen garden called the panel garden. Its function was for growing necessities like fruits, vegetables and cut flowers. Stone fruits were originally trained as fans on its 10 to 12-foot-tall brick walls, and a post and wire support system was planted with 700 feet of espaliered apples and pears. The panel garden also contains a cutting garden, three English fruit cages (two of which have been converted to flower cages because of birds), two long shrub borders for picking lilacs, a fruit garden under planted and edged with narcissus, and a row of Mission olives, vegetable garden, greenhouses and cold frames.

Clipped hedges are the hallmark of an English style garden. Filoli has many formal hedges including copper beech, English holly, English laurel, English boxwood, myrtle, Grecian bay and yew hedges. The hedges and the brick walls divide the garden into compartments which guaranteed the seclusion and privacy desired by the Bourns. The anticipation heightens as one circulates through the enclosed garden with discoveries and surprises around every corner.

The secondary structures like the garage and the gardener’s cottage communicate the Georgian style architecture of the house out into the garden. Most of the secondary structures were designed by Arthur Brown, Jr., with the exception of the pool pavilion which was added during the Roth period. The garage with its Christopher Wren inspired clock tower is visible throughout the gardens. It is decorated with four different clock faces so the time can be read from almost every location – even outside the garden wall – and is topped with a gold finial rooster weathervane. The choice of a rooster may relate to the Chanticleer chickens raised in the fowl houses located to the south of the gardens by the corporation yard.

The garden structures included the garage, the garden pavilion, the gardener’s cottage, the tennis court dressing room, and the greenhouses. A feature of the Georgian style architecture is the way the brick walls link to the structures at the corner quoins to tie the composition together. Like the walls of the house, the garden walls are also in Flemish bond pattern, with decorative belt courses and corner quoins. A total of 21 exquisitely crafted wrought iron and arched wooden gates frame the interior views and add to the garden’s charm and intimacy.

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