San Francisco: Botanical Garden

One glimpse of the spacious meadow with its fountain and you begin to imagine a tai chi session in progress. This garden invites the neighborhood. It’s a place where people can go to have a picnic, take a walk, spend a lovely Sunday afternoon–if it isn’t cold and foggy. Even during our short visit, we saw people power walking and practicing yoga. Neighbors of the park, maybe? since the park is free to city residents.

Dig deeper and you find botanical treasure. We did not, could not dig deep enough because the entire city was waiting for us. We spent a couple of hours here, enjoying exotics (to us) and greeting old friends from our home gardens, the briefest of introductions to its 55 acres. As we followed the map, Susan commented on what a fine teaching garden it was.

It’s the fog. Yes, it might dampen picnics, but fog during dry summers, and moist, balmy winters mimic the climate of tropical cloud forests. Who would expect to find cloud forests native to the Andes and the mountains of southeast Asia and Mexico down here at sea level? A Mediterranean garden near a Rhododendron garden? California natives next to a redwood grove? And palm trees, too. What adventure it must have been for the botanists who brought back snippets of plants from around the world and then grew them into these rich collections.

But don’t expect an exquisitely designed, manicured, well-watered, formal garden, like, for instance, Butchart Gardens in Vancouver. When we visited, the soil seemed to be longing for a drink of water (product of the long drought?). The plants grew as they would be found in the wild, unprimped and untamed, except to maintain order.

It would be a real treat to pop into this garden and follow its bloom throughout the year. Cloud forests in fall and winter. South Africa from March through May. Magnolias from December to March. California natives in winter and spring. Perennials in summer. When we visited in June, poppies, perennial marigolds, hardy geranium, asters, rose campion, Turks cap hibiscus, ceanothus (California lilac), and more we couldn’t name brightened scattered niches in casual abandon.

We have an excuse now to come back to San Francisco in every season, bring a picnic and spend the day and do some deep digging into these unusual collections.

Photos by Susan and Carolyn

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