ERSKINE: An upscale outdoor experience at Filoli

A view of the grounds at Filoli in Woodside.

Getting Out: Back in the parking lot, after nearly any adventure
I have described over the two-year life of this column, you are
likely to see tired and ragged folks slamming a thirst-quenching
beer then wiping their mouths with a shirt sleeve. Goodness
gracious, so uncouth. For a change, let’s step away from the
unwashed masses (aka, us), and cozy up to polite society. Heck, we
got

cultcha.

Back in the parking lot, after nearly any adventure I have described over the two-year life of this column, you are likely to see tired and ragged folks slamming a thirst-quenching beer then wiping their mouths with a shirt sleeve. Goodness gracious, so uncouth. For a change, let’s step away from the unwashed masses (aka, us), and cozy up to polite society. Heck, we got “cultcha.”

Last week, my wife, Renee, gave the last of three art classes she was presenting at Filoli in Woodside just off Interstate 280. She had tweaked her back and was hurting, so I tagged along to help out.

My reward during the three-hour class was access to the grounds.

Wow.

If you remember the movie “Heaven Can Wait” or the TV show “Dynasty,” you have seen Filoli. Construction began on Filoli in 1915 by William Bowers Bourn who made his fortune at the Empire Mine in Grass Valley. In 1937, it was sold to the William P. Roth family (Matson Navigation Lines), which donated the grounds to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1975. Today, the 654-acre estate is operated by the Filoli Center.

The house is a huge “Oh my gosh” monument to wealth (a cozy 36,000 sq. ft.) reminiscent of a bygone era – something the Vanderbilts or the Rockefellers would have built back east. But the gardens and grounds are the main attraction. They will take your breath away, especially in spring.

No one is a bigger fan of Mother Nature’s gardening skills that I, but it is impressive what a team of attentive gardeners can do. Any 6-feet-by-6 feet area, randomly plucked from the formal garden at Filoli and dropped in your backyard, would be the envy of your entire neighborhood. The intricate elegance is all the more impressive when you realize this perfection is spread across 125 acres.

In these gardens, the preoccupation I feel to identify the wildflowers I pass in the wild, was replaced by dumbstruck awe.

My ignorance was an asset as I passed stunning blossoms at my feet and over my head. Trees weeping in the most artistic fashion were clothed in pink blossoms, then a twisting path, a patch of lawn, a fountain, a pot stuffed with tulips. It was an amazing spectacle – all without computer-generated special effects!

The crisply trimmed gardens will draw most of your attention, but search the grounds for less regimented areas like olive and fruit orchards as well as open fields of daffodils dotted with live oaks.

The variety of programs and services at Filoli for individuals, families and groups is staggering. Classes in a variety of subjects are available for seniors and youngsters alike. Daily adult general admission is $15 (Seniors $12, Students $5) and buys you access to the house and gardens to enjoy at your leisure.

Guided nature hikes also take you along seven miles of hiking trails that visit a variety of habitats just below the south end of Crystal Springs Lake. There is even a Cafe with quick but elegant food at a fair price.

Filoli is open Tuesday through Sunday, but hours are limited, and tours and hikes run at scheduled times. Visit www.filoli.org for complete information.

For a day, put away your tattered shorts and stained T-shirt. Grab a pair of pants with a crease and a shirt with a collar, and mingle among the well-bred people your parents were hoping you might become.

Dine at the Cafe (Tip: When sipping tea, your pinkie finger should point toward right field) and speak with an affected accent like Grace Kelly. Once in a while, it’s fun.

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