Hustle and Bustle at Filoli: Winter in the Greenhouse with Kate

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By Kate, Horticulture Production Manager

For the greenhouse horticulturists, winter is particularly full of activity as we prepare for spring.

By January, thousands of bulbs have been planted in the Garden beds. Meanwhile, the horticulturists in the greenhouse are still potting away.  They plant a succession of different pots to be moved out to garden locations during the spring season. To fill the pots, the staff use a soil-mixing machine and tractor to produce batch after batch of Filoli’s potting soil recipe. The spring pots display features 56 different varieties of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and annuals. After 125 different rounds of pots, the greenhouse horticulturists declare victory!

Horticulturists do their best to protect the spring display from birds, voles, moles, and gophers. In the winter greenhouse, staff grow back-up seedlings – replacement plants to make the display once again picture perfect. 

While spring replacement seedlings are still in production, propagation for the summer display that will follow has already begun. Greenhouse staff root herb cuttings and sprout early seeds indoors on heated benches to prepare for the summer’s edible-themed plantings. Different seeds require different growing conditions. Propagators carefully monitor and provide the correct temperature, soil mixture, planting depth, and moisture levels for each annual crop to succeed.

Only a fractions of the thousands of pots Filoli’s Horticulture team prepares every year

To thrive, Filoli’s tropical and indoor plant collections need regular care and maintenance. Winter is the time when the greenhouse staff do most of the repotting, pruning, dividing, root pruning, and propagation necessary to keep these plants healthy and happy. Wielding machetes, saws, and forks, the horticulturists slash through a jungle of thick roots and stems. In the process, even more cool houseplants are produced for sale in Filoli’s Clock Tower Shop.

A peak inside the Greenhouse at Filoli

Winter is also prime time for purchasing perennials, shrubs, trees, and annuals for Filoli’s shop. Greenhouse horticulturists review availability lists and negotiate with local growers to source unique and high-quality plant material for Filoli’s discerning customers. Buying plants allows Filoli to have a wide selection of both heirlooms and new cultivars and helps to support Bay Area growers. When orders arrive, staff inspect them to ensure quality, price them, display them in the shop, and importantly, ooh and ahh over each new favorite.

This time of year – because bulbs are so responsive to temperature and rain – our favorite conversation topic is the weather. What qualifies as small talk for most is of the utmost importance to those who care for plants as their profession. Will it be hot, cold, wet, dry, sunny, cloudy, windy, frosty? Let’s talk!

Even more pots, nearly ready to be put on display for their show in the Garden