There’s something to be said for the “artist date”

I have yet to take a selfie that does not look slightly maniacal.

I have yet to take a selfie that does not look slightly maniacal.

In her  book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about the power of the “artist date.”  She maintains that writers need to schedule frequent “playdates,”  chunks of time where they go off alone and do something fun in order to fill the creative well.  It’s just you and your inner artist, no one else allowed.

Last week, on my spring break,  I finally gave her idea a shot.  I took my inner artist to Filoli, a gorgeous estate and garden in Woodside, California.

front entrance-001

If Filoli looks familiar, it’s no doubt because you’ve seen it before  (the house has starred in numerous movies and TV shows).  You can tour the inside of the gorgeous Georgian-style residence, taking in the library (my favorite room):


You can also visit the ballroom, my second-favorite room because of its color scheme and beautiful murals (there was a man playing piano during my visit, which added a wonderful ambiance).


ballroom mural

Wandering through the rooms, you can indulge in a little fantasy that you are at Pemberley or Downton Abbey instead of a California estate built by a gold mine owner in 1917.  It’s the perfect setting for period-drama loving Anglophiles like me (the gray, drizzly weather was an evocative touch,too).

But lovely as the house is, the gardens are the real star.

back terrace

house, side view


sunken garden pool



The tour brochure refers to the parts of the garden as “rooms,” and that’s essentially what they feel like.  Everywhere you look you see hedges or walls dividing one part of the garden from the others, creating a wonderful Secret Garden kind of feel.  What’s waiting around the next bend, or through the next archway? It might be a mass of deep pink tulips

huge tulip beds

or it might be flowering dogwood

pink dogwood


dogwood arch

or it might be a circular pool in the middle of a lawn

reflecting pool

Or a little camellia in a vase, put in this little niche by a detail-loving gardener.

camellia in wall


Or — and this stopped me in my tracks — you might find lilac bushes in bloom along the apple and pear trees.

lilac and orchard


I really can’t be held responsible for my behavior when I see lilacs.  It’s rare to find them in California, so when I do I bury my face in the blooms and breathe in like I’m wearing an oxygen mask.  If you need further proof that lilacs do something to my brain, let me say that I actually entertained the fleeting thought that maybe if I hid under the lilac bush no one would find me and I’d be able to stay even after Filoli was closed, smelling lilac all night long.  (“Would you at least have called home and let us know?” Scott asked when I told him of my fantasy.)  But seriously, how do you NOT love these beauties?

bush lilac

I have to say, I like this whole artist date thing.  It was blissful  to be somewhere entirely on my own, with no formal agenda, able to savor the sights and smells  without having to follow anyone else’s schedule or keep two small boys from playing ninja in the tulip beds.  Solitude is renewing, no doubt about it.

And yet at the same time, I felt I was in good company.  A hymn my mom used to sing kept floating through my mind:

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses …

In the song, Jesus shows up and joins the narrator as they walk throughout the garden:

And he walks with me, and he talks with me
And he tells me I am his own.
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.

That was how I felt: alone, but not alone.  And it was just what I craved, and needed.

And I think that if heaven looks like anything on earth, it probably looks a lot like Filoli.

back terrace tulips


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