The Italian Gardeners

Young Michael playing bocce, c 1952
Young Michael playing bocce, c 1952

Throughout the family eras Filoli was home to a variety of immigrants, representing more than thirteen countries. While the house staff was a multicultural group, the garden staff was mainly Italian men. Many of them lived and worked onsite for decades. The men and their families lived in the Farm Group east of the house. An Italianate style building served as a dormitory. A nearby cookhouse offered a large dining hall with plenty of room for communal meals. Pictures in the archives attest that their grown children and grandchildren were regular visitors to the estate. Their wives shared in the cooking and cleaning, and were known to help out in the house during parties and events. The estate has not one, but two bocce ball courts that were built during their time at Filoli. We still have their last set of bocce balls in our collection. The earliest court was located just below the Farm Group. In time, a more elaborate court and barbecue pit was built higher up on the hill at the Picnic Grounds. The dedication and continuity of staff is part of what kept Filoli’s garden so well preserved, and so true to its original design. Their story is shared with our guests during daily garden tours. During nature hikes visitors get the chance to see the bocce courts and picnic grounds. We are fortunate to have these images in our archives because their children and grandchildren saw Filoli not as a home for the Bourns or Roths, but as their grandparents home.

Place(s): Italy
Year: 1903

– Kara Newport

Relationship:  Grandchild of im/migrant Grandchild of im/migrant