A visit to the San Francisco Botanical Garden

Main entrance to the San Francisco Botanical Garden
Main entrance to the San Francisco Botanical Garden

Continuing on from my visits to the California Academy of Sciences and the Japanese Tea Garden, I visited a third garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park: the San Francisco Botanical Garden. It’s only a stone’s throw from the Japanese Tea Garden. Admission is free for San Francisco residents (it seems a popular spot for lounging on the grass), but it costs $7.00 for non-residents (adults, $5.00 for seniors). Well worth the money!

I’d say this is a medium size botanical garden, certainly smaller than Kew or Montreal, but still, with about 8,000 different varieties of plants, there is certainly enough to keep the visitor busy. I spent 4 hours there and certainly didn’t see everything.

The garden’s speciality is plants of Mediterranean climates, which is logical, as it is located in a Mediterranean climate itself, that is, one where summers are hot and dry and winters are cool to cold (but dropping rarely below freezing). In the SFBG, many of the plants are presented as collections representing that climate, so there is an Australian collection, a Chilean collection, a Mediterranean collection, a South African collection and, of course, a Californian collection.

There is also a secondary speciality, that of representing the plants of cloud forest environments. This is a difficult environment to recreate and not many botanical gardens have this kind of collection.

Entrance to the Ancient Plants Garden.
Entrance to the Ancient Plants Garden.

The garden is also well known for its magnolias, several of which were in full bloom when I visited on January 21. The Camellia Garden was also very much in flower. Other gardens of note are the New Zealand collection, the Garden of Fragrance, the Succulent Garden, some open spaces (the Great Meadow and Fountain Plaza among them) and the Redwood Grove. I especially enjoyed the Ancient Plant Garden that allows visitors to move chronologically through five periods or epochs: Early Devonian, Pennsylvanian, Jurassic, Cretaceous, and Eocene. There were some really cool ancient plants there, such as the recently discovered Wollemia nobilis. However, many of the plants in this garden looked seriously damaged when I visited in January (the leaves of the cycads, notably, were seriously damaged or dead) : had there been a frost recently? In most of the other gardens, there was little sign of this kind of damage.

I really enjoyed this garden and would go back again any time… but especially at other times of the year to see what is in bloom at different seasons.

On the “bummer” side, I spent so much time in the SF Botanical Garden that I did not have time to go to the Conservatory of Flowers, the last garden I planned to visit. It is a recently restored Victorian conservatory and apparently well worth seeing. I’ll just have to save it for another trip!

I’ll put a gallery of photos in a separate post.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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