Spotlight on Filoli’s Victory Garden
Filoli digs into its Centennial celebration and ‘Year of the Garden’ with an edible tribute
Wandering around the English Renaissance and Georgianstyle gardens at the historic Filoli estate in Woodside, visitors marvel at the beds of vibrant flowers bordered by perfectly manicured boxwood hedges, but what they might not know is that the estate was planned to sustain the family in all aspects of their lives.
Along with functional kitchen gardens and orchards, there is also a pair of formal display beds that historically were used to grow vegetables. The Bell Beds, which were given the name for their bell-like shape, were planned as War Garden beds at the beginning of World War I. These gardens, which became known as Victory Gardens after the war, were part of a national campaign to encourage Americans to plant fruit and vegetables to avoid food shortages and aid the war effort.
A Modern Victory Garden
Filoli was built as the country estate for William and Agnes Bourn between 1915 and 1917. The couple had researched and planned for this project for decades. Only after finding the perfect piece of land along the Peninsula did they embark on making their dream a reality. To celebrate Filoli’s Centennial, we have spent the past two years celebrating the Land in 2015, the House in 2016 and this, tradition to the garden, in the summer of 2016 the Bell Beds of Filoli were planted as a Victory Garden.
The Bell Beds are located along the main path of the walled garden. One of the goals for the beds was to coordinate with adjacent beds of velvet-red petunias on one side and orange zinnias on the other. The plant selection also had to lend itself to being treated in a formal planting manner and to also be varieties that could span our May to October summer season. In the end, a mix of gray and ruby cabbages, gray kale and dark purple ornamental peppers were chosen. The purple combined well with the zinnias and the ruby and grays with the petunias.
Not all the plants were a success. The peppers did not attain the height expected and were lost at the back of the beds. Some of the cabbages grew very well over the course of the season, while others began cracking after a few months. All the quality produce was distributed to volunteers and staff. Building on the experience of last year, and working with a different combination of annuals in the nearby beds, we have simplified the plan to include two Savoy cabbages and a red and green kale. The combination should be a feast for the eyes and, ultimately, the body. For information on Filoli’s Centennial Celebration, or to find out more about the progress of the Victory Garden Beds, visit Filoli.org.
Summer 2017 Centennial Victory Garden planting of Filoli’s Bell Beds
- Kale Brassica oleracea ‘Roulette’—a frilly-edged blue-green leaf with broadly colored red ribs
- Savoy cabbage Brassica oleracea var. capitata ‘Melissa’—bright blue-green crinkle-leaved head
- Savoy cabbage Brassica oleracea var. capitata ‘Deadon’—red-headed crinkle-leaved head
The Victory Garden Movement
Imagine a media campaign, complete with propaganda posters and the backing of government agencies, focused on the promotion of gardens! Exactly 100 years ago, the National War Garden Commission (NWGC) was established to promote food gardening for the war effort. After witnessing widespread food shortages in Europe, the NWGC knew that adequate food would be critical to our success during the war.
The commission, along with the US Food Administration and the Department of Agriculture launched a well-organized public relations campaign. Armed with posters, cookbooks, manuals and poems, they worked to get the word out about the importance of growing food. Posters included sayings such as “Food is Ammunition—Don’t Waste It” and “Can vegetables, fruits and the Kaiser too.”
Along with urban gardens, state and local governments established policies to grow food on empty and publicly owned lots to help educate new gardeners. The NWGC estimated 3.5 million war gardens producing $350 million worth of food in 1917 and nearly 5.3 million war gardens producing $525 million worth of food in 1918. After the war, the War Gardens became known as Victory Gardens.
Gardening remains a favorite pastime and the benefits are countless, whether to contribute during wartime, to produce our own food during an economic downturn or to foster the primal need to spend time outdoors.