A Year in the Garden…Filoli in April

What a difference a month makes! The potted daffodils have been retired, the tulips are waning and the gardens at Filoli have burst into bloom. Especially light traffic allowed me to arrive with almost an hour to walk the gardens before I needed to be in my potting shed classroom. As Filoli was not yet open for day visitors, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to revisit a few plants which were not quite out in March and take photos in a virtually empty garden.

Of course, my first stop was the courtyard now dripping in wisteria. Different varieties were in different stages from just barely in bud to full bloom–both purple and white. The smell was heavenly! This first one drapes the door of the gift shop and is Wisteria floribunda ‘Violacea plena’.



It is a beautiful double with shadings from light to dark purple. The white silky wisteria, Wisteria brachybotris ‘Shira Kapitan’, was just getting started.


The grouping of Wisteria brachybotris ‘Murisaki Kapitan’, yellow Lady Banks roses and weeping cherry was stunning. The wisteria bloom detail below reveals that the flowers in each amethyst inflorescence has a spot of yellow, tying in perfectly with the rose clusters.



With time running short I cut through the walled garden to make my way to the greenhouse area. Along the way I saw not only another gorgeous wisteria but also a grouping of Kerria japonica ‘Pleniflora’ making a bright statement against the red brick wall of the garden.



Kerria is a deciduous shrub with an open arching form. It can grow quite large with a spread of 8 ft. and a height of 6 ft. Its position as the backdrop for a stand of agapanthus gives it room enough to spread out as the season progresses. As the flowers do not stand up well to strong sunlight, the somewhat shaded area will help the kerria blooms hold their color.


Soil Management was our morning topic. Instructor Mimi Clarke reviewed the four key components of soil composition: mineral soil, organic matter, water and air and we learned the terms needed to understand and discuss soil: soil profile, soil texture, soil structure and soil reaction. The takeaway here was that virtually none of us are blessed with the loamy soil (40% sand, 40% silt and 20% clay) perfect for most plants. While we cannot change our soil’s texture we can change its structure with the addition of organic matter and thus improve conditions gradually over time. No magic bullet, no specific formula and definitely not overnight. We discussed the differences between and the merits of compost and mulch. We finished the morning with a discussion of both organic and synthetic fertilizers. This unit in our notebooks has some great reference material including an overview of the various types of organic fertilizers available and how they are best used and a scaled down home gardener batch recipe for Filoli’s potting soil. Thank you, Mimi!

The focus of our afternoon garden walk was Landscape Perennial and Annual ID. Just as she had for our Tree and Shrub ID walk, Mimi provided a reference sheet for each of  the selections on our list. So great to be able to walk, look, listen and take photos knowing you have all the hard facts all ready on paper to refer back to rather than trying to write down the details as you go along. While there was masses of blooming material on our walk, many of the plants we were focused on were not yet blooming–running a little late this year. As on our previous walks, our group is very enthusiastic and tends to slow Mimi up on her walk schedule. But, no matter, we always have next month to revisit anything we missed!

Most of the perennials and annuals on our list were very familiar to me and so I tended not to photograph them, especially if they were still only foliage. Take a look at a few interesting plants that caught my eye as we rambled:


Choysia ternata or Mexican orange is an evergreen shrub with glossy dark green leaves and covered in clusters of small fragrant white flowers in late winter and early spring. Although I had read about this shrub I had never actually seen one. It was beautiful and the scent of orange blossom was heady. Reference material indicates that this shrub is fast growing and can reach 6-8 ft. The several I saw were more in the 3ft. range but looked quite mature so they may have been a more compact cultivars rather than the species. Below you see detail of both buds and blooms.

Weigela florida is a large deciduous shrub with long arching branches that almost reach the ground. This shrub was quite common in Georgia but I think many California gardeners in very temperate zones are not as drawn to deciduous shrubbery when there is so much available that gives year round green plus seasonal flowers. Weigela is not especially interesting after it finishes its bloom period and can get pretty rangy. They definitely benefit from yearly pruning of the oldest stems to the ground to increase production of dense new growth and blooms the next year.



There are a number of named cultivars and hybrids with flowers ranging from white to deep pink and foliage varying from bright green to burgundy. The plants I saw were quite young, very open and loose.

Yet another deciduous shrub I don’t often see in Valley gardens is Deutzia gracilis, or slender deutzia. As with the weigela, deutzia are not especially attractive when not in bloom and probably best used in a mixed shrub border where they can blend in with other foliage when they are not flowering. Although somewhat smaller and more fine textured than the weigela, deutzia also has slender arching stems and benefits from cutting back the wood that has all ready flowered severely to outward facing side branches.



These three shrubs are all best in full sun to partial shade in really hot climates and need regular water.

One of the annuals highlighted on our walk was Viola cornuta ‘Jersey Jem’, as seen below.


This little tufted pansy was bred by Filoli staff and it not available commercially. Every year the gardeners collect the seed from the violas as they wane and then use that to raise seedlings to plant the following year. Although these plants will be removed in another month or so as Filoli resets their display beds to summer, with a shaded spot, regular pinching and deadheading they could last well into summer in a home garden. Lucky US–next month as part of our Seed Collecting unit we will get to harvest ‘Jersey Jem’ seed to take home for our own gardens!

We also made a return trip to the Camperdown elm I shared with you in my February post. The bare branches are just starting to leaf out in a few places and the tree was covered with pale green seeds which, from a distance, made the elm look as though it were flowering.



Filoli is a garden of long views. They have been ever-changing over the three months of class so far. It is difficult to narrow my favorites down to a few from this trip. Take a look.






And the short views are just as impressive!


Looking forward to good gardening days ahead for us all and many more great road trip gardens to share with you!

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