Golden Gate Park sits within San Francisco and harbors the Botanical Garden (SFBG) within its borders. Upon arriving at the Garden, we were met by Eric Andersen, Superintendent of Parks and Recreation; Sue Ann Schiff, Executive Director, San Francisco Botanical Garden Society; and Don Mahoney, Curator, SFBG, who sat down with us to explain how the city and SFBG partner to run the Garden.
Don led us into the grounds and explained the unique climate of the area. As we quickly came to realize with our sweaters and pants, summer in San Francisco is not like summer on the East Coast. Fog, cool temperatures and a constant wind, impact and shape the plants. The garden and park sit on land that was once windswept sand dunes and today boasts of having the largest and most important collection of magnolias outside of China, as well important collections of high elevation tropical cloud forest plants of Cental and South America and Southeast Asia.
Don guided us through the collections where we walked past Echium growing wild, a fenceline of “swarming” passiflora, northeast trees contorted and wind blown, as well as California natives. As we headed toward the coastal redwood grove we saw the giants rise before us and then saw Don casually pointing out albino suckers at the base of a redwood. Little did he know we had been looking forward to seeing albino redwood growth for quite some time. We all immediately fell into formation for a group photo and marked the occasion appropriately with several great shots.
After a short break for lunch, we parted ways with Don and headed to the Conservatory of Flowers, also within Golden Gate Park, where we were greeted by Eric as well as Lau Hodges, Director of Operations and Exhibitions, and Jane Scurich, Director of Development. Despite being under the same governance umbrella as SFBG, they are their own unique institution focusing on a great visitor experience in a historic conservatory that has survived earthquakes and not one, but two boiler explosions in its long history.
Lau walked us through the Conservatory where she was able to show off some of the exhibits she has created. She later treated us to a behind the scenes tour through historic greenhouses and ended our visit with a sampling of cacao from a tree that long ago outgrew its pot and now grows directly in the soil in the greenhouse floor.
We were impressed by both institutions’ stunning collections and displays while serving the residents of San Francisco, as well as visiting garden lovers such as us, every day.