an hour in San Francisco Botanical Garden in April


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At the Friend Gate, Ageratum corymbosum Bartlettina sordida (thanks, Mr. Feix!)

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with a Fuchsia magellanica. Or maybe thymifolia. I didn’t check. No time!

A few weeks ago I had the rather condensed pleasure of visiting San Francisco’s Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park for an hour.
Ahead of me in line were a couple from Scotland. Just behind me the pair were from Israel. The ticket taker was therefore not that impressed by a visitor from Los Angeles.
As far as distance traveled, I was the obvious slacker.

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I chose the Friend Gate entrance because that’s where the daily plant sales are held.

Entering through the Friend Gate was a happy accident. Just steps away were the Australian and New Zealand gardens, and not much further away the Mediterranean garden.
I immediately set to work power walking, dodging dawdlers intent on constructing the perfect selfie. Compression of time made me even more singled-minded than usual.

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also at the entrance, beschorneria was in bloom

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Mediterranean garden

There is such tremendous excitement walking the paths of a world-class botanical garden. If you have one in your city or nearby, then you know that the treasures of a botanical garden can only be fully revealed in frequent visits several times a year. (“Don’t miss a spectacular array of blooms each winter in one of the finest collections of deciduous magnolias in the United States.“)
Sometimes a week can make a difference. If you blink, you’ll miss the bloom time of bearded iris, for example.

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Poppies are fleeting. These may still be in bloom next month. SF’s climate is kinder to blooms than mine. (Nice heat wave in LA, April!)

I visit the Huntington often (yesterday, in fact, for the plant sale) and Los Angeles Arboretum, and each visit is unique depending on what’s in bloom, whether it’s the aloes, the puyas, the proteaceae.
Or wherever your botanical passion leads you. Rhododendrons, roses, ferns.

For example, say you think rhododendrons are boring, stuffy foundation hedges.


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And then you meet this one on the path. It was labeled Rhododendron ‘Loderi Game Chick,’ but an image search shows a conflict with that name.
For our purposes, it shall be known as ‘Unknown Sexy Rhododendron.”

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I know nothing whatever of this vast family of plants from Asia, except they always make me think of English explorers like E.H. Wilson.
There’s a book about the prodigious plant-collecting Mr. Wilson on the shelves around here somewhere.
I do know that it’s the tropical vireya rhodies that just might be persuaded to grow in Los Angeles.

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ooh, nice tomentum!

And there’s always the never-before-seen-or-heard-of plant, at least for me. This visit it was Oldenburgia grandis. From South Africa, a tree in the asteraceae family.

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Oldenburgia in the immediate foreground, with Phyllica pubescens shining golden in the midground, and restios

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unlabeled grevillea

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‘Unknown Sexy Grevillea’

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California buckeye

Trees grown unfettered by utility poles, cramped parkways, or neighbor disputes are always the glory of any botanical garden.

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It probably goes without saying but, botanically, I confess to being rather promiscuous. I don’t specialize. I love it all.
And I don’t know San Francisco Botanical Garden as well as I’d like. I’ve always loved the climate. When briefly living here a couple years, the fog never grew tiresome.
It was always an intriguing, mysterious, shape-shifting stranger, with the power to alter and muffle sound. And also to bestow really big hair.
Plants love it, so of course I do too, my big hair notwithstanding. And unlike here in Los Angeles, there was relatively good rainfall in Northern California this past winter.

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This visit, the cistus were in bloom in the Mediterranean garden.

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Cistus ‘Troubador’

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Asphodels were stirring.

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Echiums love their adopted home in California.

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The Canary Islander Sonchus palmensis carpeted the hillside.

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With Euphorbia characias and mellifera, orange spires of isoplexis.

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Phlomis and helichrysum

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If you’ve ever tried to create a tightly woven community of plants based on similar light and moisture needs, on any scale, you’ll appreciate what’s been done here.
Massed for effect, but each plant’s distinctive characteristics legible to the eye.

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If I was a local, I know my next visit would be at their annual plant sale, this May 6 and 7, 2016.

17 thoughts on “an hour in San Francisco Botanical Garden in April

  1. I can see the rainfall and the fog and the grey skies in the condition of the plants. No scorch, no crispsing, no bleaching, no drooping.

    How was the Huntington sale?

  2. Hoov, it was a good sale, for the brief time I was there. I don’t often go on member-only days and thought I’d beat the crowds. It was packed! And you’ll be pleased to know that Mr. Carruth himself talked me into Rosa mutabilis, in a 5-gallon. They had just two. I squeezed it into dry, root infested soil among the lemon cypresses, poor thing. Plant sale mania strikes again.

  3. Beautiful! That Asphodel looks intriguing. Last time we tried to visit, everyone else in the world did too, so it was too busy.

    I accidentally bought a tree at the Huntington plant sale yesterday. Oops. Plant sale mania is real and dangerous.

  4. I’ve done the 1-hour power walk through a garden before. It’s a little stressful, but it really does focus one’s attention. You managed to capture some lovely images even as you were trotting along.

  5. @Renee, that is too funny! That relieves some of my guilt over the rose.
    @Pam, it seemed like a crazy idea at the time, to spend $8 bucks for an hour visit, but I definitely got my money’s worth. What a gorgeous place. So glad we had the blogger Fling in SF a few years back.

  6. I hate that I didn’t make it to SF Bot this spring. It was on the punch list. I have yet to make my first Annies visit too, and the shopping list keeps growing. Your photos are lovely and atmospheric..capturing the essence of why people actually put up with the awful SF weather.

  7. This is the Strybing Arboretum, yes? I’ve been away for decades now; has the name changed? Or are there two world-class gardens in Golden Gate Park…

  8. You did well with the photos, especially given your 1-hour deadline! That Ageratum corymbosum looks huge, at least relative to mine. Is it me or does Phylica pubescens seem to be everywhere all of a sudden? I saw it at Seaside 2 years ago in a large pot for $400 and now it’s available at our local chain garden center in a 1-gallon container at a reasonable price.

  9. You managed to squeeze a lot into just one hour! The sexy Grevillea leaves look a lot like those of G. ‘Ivanhoe’, but I have honestly never seen it flower, so I don’t know for sure. But, the foliage is killer! Enjoy your new Rosa mutabilis. I saw one last year, and they are so cool with how the flowers change color. Wish I had room for one…

  10. It’s so true that, like our own gardens, botanic gardens really need multiple visits to appreciate what they have. We visited here a few years ago in May and I swear the photos you posted bear almost no resemblance to our visit. It’s a great place.
    Love the Asphodeline. It’s a relatively new plant for me and I’m crazy for the tousled, almost irridescent foliage. A. lutea rotted for me over the winter, but I have A. taurica in a hot, dry gravel garden that looks very similar to what you have shown.
    Sexy rhodie? You bet! Those pink pseudo-leave thingies are awesome. Thanks for taking ohotos and sharing them.

  11. There are a lot of things I miss about San Francisco, but Strybing is at the top of the list. Used to take the Muni out there every few weeks and spend hours soaking up the plants — all new to me, a creature of the eastern woodland. The Australian and South African gardens were my favorites. But back then (late 1980s, early 90s) admission was free. So I guess the name and much else has changed…

  12. @Kathy, put up with SF weather it! I loved it. In fact when I visit now, it always seems a bit warmer than I remember, and not enough fog.
    @Nell, I’m not sure when the name changed. This link does reference “formerly known as”: https://goldengatepark.com/strybing-arboretum.html
    @Kris, that ageratum was indeed huge, 7+ feet. I once had the most beautiful phyllica and have been trying to grow another ever since. So glad it’s available now in gallons!
    @Max, you lucky devil, it’s right in your backyard.
    @Anna, I did search for a tag on that grevillea. Usually tags are provided. These were big shrubs, fully 5 feet high and across at least. The tag must be buried under its skirts somewhere. It’s been a while since I’ve grown mutabilis. I was thinking a container, but I hate nursing big shrubs in containers thru summer because I suck at that. Mutabilis is fairly tough as far as roses go, so we’ll see.
    @Tim, I managed to get an asphodel to survive the winter. Bought it in bloom in the fall and its made decent size. It might be lutea — I just grab one when I find them! A. taurica sounds intriguing, thanks for the ref.
    @Nell, it was Strybing when I lived here too. Lots of things have changed, including outdoor urinals!

  13. Just a reminder, the SF Botanic Garden offers free admission to members of other botanic gardens with reciprocal privileges, such as the SDBG, Huntington, Rancho Santa Ana, etc, but you have to know to ask. I think your photo of the Ageratum corymbosum is actually the similar flowered but much larger (to 18 feet tall in my own garden) Bartlettina sordidum. Wish I’d known you were in the area, would have invited you over to my place in Berkeley.

  14. What they’ve achieved is even more remarkable for being on a hill, as I know to my cost. It’s a gift as a design feature because the plants all show up more easily but it’s much harder to pull off. It’s not just the height of each plant that needs to be considered but its height relative to others allowing for the slope. Get it wrong and the ‘legs’ of the plants higher up look dreadful!

  15. @David, if this wasn’t such a quick turnaround trip I’d have made it to Berkeley. Another time? Thanks for the ID on the bartlettina.
    @Jessica, I’m a big fang of slope plantings too, and you’re exactly right with the points you raise. So tricky, but so beautiful when done well.

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