First Through the Gates

Photos by Mike James

Back in February 2021, Mike James and his wife aspired to inject a little more color into their routine. “It had been a while since we had seen Filoli,” he recounts, “so off we went to enjoy the 16 acres of gardens and get some fresh air.” Intrigued by the hint of bold hues about to explode, the San Mateo photographer devised a plan to visit regularly and create a pictorial record of the changes at the historic Woodside estate. He thought the exercise would last a few months.

More than two years later, he’s still snapping away. “At a certain point, you can’t stop,” he laughs. “I think I’m addicted. It’s like a natural treasure hunt. There’s always something that’s going to capture your attention and speak to you. You just have to find it.” For Mike, now deeply in tune with Filoli’s cycles, what catches his eye shifts from week to week, month to month, season to season and year to year.

Given that Filoli is also a popular Peninsula attraction, he added another parameter to the challenge. “There are no people in the images,” he frequently hears. “How did you manage that?” Mike’s secret: getting a head start. “I’m always the first car through the gates when Filoli opens,” he reveals. As an ode to this vibrant season, PUNCH asks Mike to share some of his favorite Filoli spring reflections and images.

“Tulips. Tulips. Tulips. Every few days there are new displays of tulips and they keep coming… It’s hard not to just shoot tulips! I have to force myself to look right and left and up and down to see what else is blooming.”

“I will remember March for the profusion of daffodils and tulips… There can’t be too many places in the world with displays this breathtaking.”

“I will remember April for the explosion of color. Colors popping everywhere and so much changing from week to week.”

“May came and went in a flash! The explosion of roses seemed to be earlier than normal, but I suspect that is more interpretation rather than fact. It remains astounding the amount and variety and age of the roses at Filoli.”

“The vastness and variety in the gardens means that there is always something interesting to see and to shoot.”

“I really enjoyed spending time with the succulents that were being staged by the horticulture team. The textures were arresting and the way light reflects through and off of these plants is fascinating.”

sample all the seasons