Gazebo and gazing ball surrounded by summer zinnia
Gazebo and gazing ball
surrounded by summer zinnia
















Peonies in full bloom
Peonies in full bloom






Learn more about peonies:


Peonies, by Allan Rogers, published by
Timber Press, Portland, OR, 1995


Peonies: The Imperial Flower, by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall, published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1999


Brothers Herbs and Peonies

Medford, OR and Watsonville, CA








The spring rose garden is a riot of color and fragrance
The spring rose garden is a
riot of color and fragrance



"Charlotte Armstrong" was
Dorothy Farrington's favorite rose






Impatiens add color to the summer glower beds
Impatiens add color to the
     summer flower beds




Hydrangea and catmint frame the house
Hydrangea and catmint
frame the house




The Garden


Once standing at the center of a thousand acre ranch, today the Kirk-Farrington home is surrounded by approximately two acres of manicured garden. The three generations of family that lived in the house continued to ranch the property up until the late 1960s.  Eventually, the majority of the land was sold off and now comprises the residential neighborhoods that surround the home. The Kirk-Farrington garden still contains some surviving heritage trees from earlier days, as well as newer additions that bring the yard to life year round with color, texture, and fragrance.

Close-up of the Theo Kirk redwood tree
Close-up of the Theo Kirk redwood tree



Heritage Trees


When you view the house from the street, the first thing you see are two magnificent magnolia trees (Magnolia grandiflora) shading the spacious front lawn.  These trees are nearly one hundred years old and may be the largest specimens of their kind in California.  On the east side of the house grows a large Pacific Coast redwood tree (Sequoia sempervirens) that is about 25 feet in circumference and over 100 feet tall.   This tree -- the “Theo Redwood” -- was planted July 27, 1905 to commemorate the birth of Ethel and Sidney Farrington’s only child, Theo Kirk Farrington. 


Other vintage trees on the property include a very large persimmon tree which still produces an abundant crop in each fall, a gnarly old Hawthorne tree with a brick from bygone days embedded in the crook of its truck, a giant avocado tree planted years ago from a sprouted avocado pit, a small grove of cedar trees by the barn, and a single English walnut tree left over from the ranch’s orchard days.  Another interesting specimen is a parti-colored camellia, which probably began its life as a bush, but is now nearly as tall as the house.



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The Chinese Tree Peony Garden


Without a doubt, the highlight of the garden is the spectacular collection of rare Chinese tree peonies, over 160 plants in all.  The original peony slips

Single-flowered peonies such as this one were part of Ethel Farrington's peony garden
Single-flowered peonies such as this
were typical in Ethel Farrington's peony garden

were brought to San Jose from the Midwest in the early 1930’s by Mrs. James Clayton, who later became friends with Ethel Farrington.  Ethel admired her friend’s peony garden and obtained a few roots, which she planted in her front yard.  Ethel later learned about cultivating and hybridizing peonies from an article in Sunset Magazine, and began cross-pollinating her plants to achieve more colors and blossom patterns.  Many of Ethel’s plants survive to this day in the Farrington peony bed.  


Modern peonies have been added to the garden over the years.  When the garden is in bloom in late March, it is a riot of pink, white, yellow, coral, lavender, fuchsia, red, mauve, and peach.  Blooms range from simple, single-flowered varieties, to extravagant double-doubles.  Some flowers are larger than dinner plates. 


Modern peonies like these have been hybridized for extravagant size and fullness
Modern peonies like these have been
hybridized for extravagant size and fullness



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The Rose Garden


The Kirk-Farrington grounds were completely re-landscaped in 2000 with many of the original trees and all of peonies retained.  A formal rose garden surrounded by low boxwood hedges was added at the rear of the house.  In the center sits a gazing ball surrounded by colorful annuals. The rose garden is flanked by a charming gazebo encircled with Japanese wisteria vines in the springtime.  The peony bed and front garden also contain sizeable rose beds.  There are over fifty varieties of roses on the property.  Some are old roses from the days of Dorothy Farrington and others are more modern introductions. 


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Along the Garden Paths


Beds of ivy, star jasmine, and creeping bluebells (Campanula muralis) surround shady lawns in both the front and the back of the property.  Studded throughout the groundcover are large hydrangeas that bloom in shades of pink, blue, and rose in the summer.  Garden paths are lined with catmint (Nepeta faassenii) and English lavender whose blue flowers are a magnet for local honey bees.  The color and fragrance of these flowering plants enliven the garden all summer long.  

Citrus trees do well in San Jose’s temperate climate.  The property contains large navel orange tree, a murcot tangerine, a blood orange tree, and a lemon tree.  The

Golden kumquats
sparkle in the sun

enormous kumquat tree near the rose garden has been called “a botanical confection” and is covered for half of each year with shimmering orange fruit.  Other smaller trees on the property include a star magnolia, a saucer magnolia, a dozen deep rose crepe myrtles, and Chinese pistache and ash trees that provide summer shade and autumn color.  The property is bordered by tall hedges of English laurel along the sides and back, and a white picket fence across the front.

This old bell came across the plains by covered wagon with Mrs. Farrington's grandmother
This old bell came across the
plains by covered wagon

Near the back door of the house hangs a large cast iron bell that was brought across the plains by Dorothy Farrington’s grandmother, Mrs. Martha Beach.  The bell was once used to sound the alarm of an impending Indian attack for the covered wagons, and later at the Bogen ranch to summon the men from the fields.

At the far back of the property sits a large barn.  The center of the barn has a door on either end so carriages could drive through.  Originally built to house farm implements and feed for ranch animals, in the 20th century the barn served as a garage for Theo and Dorothy Farrington’s automobiles, and for Mrs. Farrington’s beloved black London taxi cab.



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