Posted by Hallie Schmidt, AEPS ’13
Located in the San Francisco Bay Area, Filoli is a property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Formerly a grand 654-acre country place, Filoli is operated today as a public garden, cultural center, and nature center. It was built in 1917 as the country estate for Mr. and Mrs. William Bowers Bourn II and has a 16-acre formal English Renaissance-style garden as well as original elements from a “gentleman’s estate,” an orchard, agricultural fields, and oak woodlands.
Under the supervision of a horticulturalist, interns learn techniques of planting, watering, hedging, fertilizing, mowing and pruning, with two-week rotations in five garden areas. They are also taught to operate power equipment, use hand tools and are required to learn garden and greenhouse plants, weeds, and native plants. A test on these subjects completes the 10-week program.
As part of my internship, I kept a daily journal of my activities. At the end of each week or when I felt inspired, I would write an overview of my experiences and thoughts about everything. Below are my journal entries while at Filoli.
I am already thoroughly enjoying this internship program. I appreciate that my lead trusts me to do more specialized tasks like pruning or mowing. Because I am given good direction, I feel that I have been doing well with the tasks assigned to me. I am also performing regular tasks more quickly and with more confidence as I become comfortable with them. For example, I watered pots and coiled hoses much more quickly on Friday than I did on Monday. On my second day of pruning azaleas I felt my approach and finished product improved. I appreciated the power tools workshops as I haven’t had a great deal of experience. The fine-cut mower makes me a little nervous, but I don’t think we’ll be using that here anyway. I wish I could drive a tractor…guess I’ll have to save that for the tractor driving class at Cal Poly, SLO.
Just as I get used to an area it’s my last day! I do like that I get to spend time in each area and with only a 10-week program, two weeks is generous. I’m beginning to notice myself go through different energy levels throughout the day. For example, I will be doing an activity like weeding, and I am dragging. It takes a lot of physical and mental effort to do a good job. And then, after break, I will be plowing through the beds, doing an effective job without even thinking. I wish I knew how to always be in that high-energy positive state. Interns stay with local families and do garden work in exchange for the hospitality. Going into this I already know that I wouldn’t be looking forward to the extra garden work after a full week of gardening. I am grateful for this opportunity that has saved me from having to arrange and pay for local housing for the summer. However, I think it would be ideal for interns to live together, on the Filoli property if possible. Since we don’t ever work together during the day we don’t really get to bond much and I feel we’re missing out. Even doing yard work together after work would be better than doing it alone.
I really like doing irrigation work because I feel that it takes problem solving and thinking. I do love gardening, but I also like to be mentally challenged. Sometimes gardening can be a “moving meditation” as Dave Lesser calls it, which is good. Irrigation, however, is like a moving puzzle for which you have to use critical thinking and observation. I also know that water is a huge issue in California, so being an auditor, or any job with water use, will have demand and possibly good money in the future. I will definitely consider this possibility. I don’t mind getting wet…in the summer anyway.
Once again, I am sad to be leaving this garden area. I really enjoy all the flowers for cutting. They have a nice effect with all the different patches of color around the garden. I think they are much nicer than roses, but people do love roses so they are an inevitable part of public gardening. I would really like to be part of flower arranging, either here at Filoli or in the future. Which is another class that I can take at Cal Poly, SLO. (Floral Design I & II taught by Melinda Lynch).
Working in the greenhouse is a total change of scenery compared to the past two weeks in the garden. I’m definitely enjoying it, which is surprising to me because after my nursery internship last summer, I decided I wasn’t into the nursery scene. It seems like a more social work environment because everyone is close together and there are more people working here. Also, I’m learning a totally new set of garden techniques (watering pots, propagation, interior plant care, greenhouse environmental controls, etc.)
One thing I found interesting was the biological controls being used in the greenhouses. In an effort to move away from pesticide sprays the staff is experimenting with introducing beneficial insects into the greenhouse environment and soil. So far I know there are good nematodes (that eat the larvae of fungus gnats and lacewings). There are also some botanical helpers: marigolds and peppers, whose pollen is apparently helpful. Cool, huh? At the end of the day I was having trouble with my forearm and wrist. I was doing a lot of hand-sewing and pruning over the weekend, plus holding the pruners while taking cuttings. Add holding the hose and I must have overworked it. I tried to do more cuttings in the afternoon but my hand was shaking and I wasn’t nearly as efficient as before. So I cleaned the greenhouse instead. I’m hoping tomorrow it will be back to normal. I like taking cuttings!
I got a history of renovations of Area Two from Matt. The area has undergone a lot of change since he began here about five years ago and it sounds like there’s more to come (removal of the rose garden, planting bulbs, renovating boxwood hedges and yews, moving from chemical to organic fertilizing, planned removal of the Sunburst Honey Locust and olive trees, etc.) Along with that, he explained to me the evolving goals of Filoli garden, as in practical vs. traditional, botanic garden vs. original specimen plants, various visions vs. the original architect’s vision for the property.
It’s an interesting thing for a public garden institution to consider, especially in the case of a historic national trust. My initial reaction was to introduce a variety of new plants and design ideas (I love protea and a “Native California English garden” would be an interesting challenge and demonstration for patrons) but I definitely see the benefit and reason to maintain a historic garden in the state it was originally planted and planned. There are numerous famous landscape architects. To change the plants and themes in a historic garden would be like modernizing or updating a Frank Lloyd Wright home. It would no longer be his piece and would not reflect history of the artist’s design accurately.
However, I do think changes in the cultural practices are appropriate, especially at Filoli where a lot of the traditional methods are still maintained. For example, I’m glad underground irrigation has been installed and I think it’s great that Filoli is making the move to using organic fertilizers and on-site composting in lieu of chemical fertilizers. Still, tradition is preserved, especially in the greenhouse area where the original greenhouses, cold frames and even wood cutting boxes are still used. Overall, this is an interested topic of debate.
I had a plant problems workshop and walk with Dave Lesser (Filoli horticulturalist). Dave is an interesting guy and it seemed to me that his main goal was to encourage us to observe the world around us in more detail than we are accustomed to doing. Having these skills will make us better diagnosticians of plant problems and also better storytellers and observers in general.
Something he said at the beginning of the talk stuck with me: the idea of gardeners being seen as “glorified janitors”. I see this perspective, and from the general labor we do I can feel it, too. However, in the case of plant problems, there is a step up in the respect people give (and the amount they will pay for consulting). After our walk I feel more confident in identifying thrips and fire blight and the weevil that likes Rosaceae plants.
I was already interested in becoming a certified arborist and this workshop got me even more motivated to do so. Just as with irrigation, I like the critical thinking and diagnostics that plant problems entail. Although pests and fungi and diseases gross me out more than water in pipes, I still find it interesting and could see myself doing this for a living, especially with trees. Trees are such majestic, revered, incredible structures of life and spending my work day around and up in them, sick or well, would be wonderful.
I’ve always been interested in compost so the combination of this with the soil science class I just took during the winter make a lot of the concepts easier to grasp in the composting workshop. Still, I have never had the opportunity to observe in person the methods of how small scale, commercial composting is done. The windrow turner is also a very cool piece of machinery. I think Filoli should be proud that the composting is going so well and that they seem to be successfully making the transition to more sustainable amending practices.
I’ve been pruning two huge, old camellias and I must say that when I finish one, it is very satisfying to step back and look at my work. The last two I did are round and about 10-12 feet high and maybe 6-8 feet wide. THey each took me two to three afternoons, but the finished product is an open, round, non-fluffy globe that should flower well into the winter and spring. Now I’m dreaming about camellia pruning. I see the leaves and Felcos in my mind when I close my eyes.
I am now in my final area! As the lead, Shippy said, it’s like my Olympics of the internship because I’ve been practicing the past eight weeks and now is my time to perform. After working in the sunken garden I feel more experienced in lots of skills I didn’t used to have. I’m also looking forward to learning more about fruit tree care as the orchard is part of this area.
Shippy explained to me what the regular morning routine will be for me: walking through the area looking for animal damage, dry spots in the lawn, etc. I will also take down the electric fence around the front of the house.
This area is unique from all the others for a few reasons. First is that is has a lot of hardscape and a great deal more non-formal and wild landscapes. This means different kinds of maintenance such as rough-cutting along roads, picking up trash in the parking lot, looking out for safety hazards, etc. Shippy emphasized the fact that this is a very public part of the public garden, as everybody who comes through here sees it. Also having the orchards is an interesting aspect because these are not attached to the formal hardens and really just serve as germplasm storage rather than appealing to visitors. Still, their care is important.
We just completed our plant ID test this afternoon and tomorrow we will have tests on power equipment and hand tools. I feel I did very well on the ID test–it was similar in format to Professors Hannings and Faulstich Plant Materials class at Cal Poly, SLO. I think the tool test will be more in depth than the ID test as in addition to names we’ll also have to know uses, parts, care, and maintenance.
To sum up my experience at Filoli, I’ve done five internships since I’ve been in college and I truly belive that I have learned more at this program than at any other place I’ve been. I came into this internship with minimal hands-on garden experience and now I can look at the garden and identify what needs to be done, what tools to use and of course, I can do it all myself! The most important lesson for me is that if i get a job like this one out of college, I would be happy and satisfied with the work I do. Visitors to the garden always comment to me that “this must be the best job in the world!” and although it is hard work, at this point in my life they are absolutely right.