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Notes from a Plant Nut

Lisa Van CleefLisa Van Cleef's life mission is to spark a passion for plants in people. Like a modern-day Johnny Appleseed, Lisa sows the seeds that inspire curiosity and a love for the plant world. A long-time SFBG Nursery volunteer, she wrote the Green Gardener column for the SFGate, has worked with the Conservatory of Flowers and The Nature Conservancy. Today, she supports the Society's marketing efforts.

Asian Madness

Campbells magnolia
Magnolia campbellii



San Francisco Botanical Garden Plant Sale
Rhododendron giganteum



San Francisco Botanical Garden Plant Sale
Camellia japonica 'Anita'



San Francisco Botanical Garden Plant Sale
Camellia 'Sweetheart'

Just in time for the Lunar New Year our Asian magnolias, rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias are putting on a spectacular display. The San Francisco Botanical Garden has a world-class collection of gorgeous flowering plants native to Asia that hit their flowering peak in February and March.

There's no better way to welcome spring and the Year of the Tiger than wandering through these blooms with the people you love best.

Mighty Magnolias

One of the most beautiful trees this time of year is our Campbell's magnolia. It's a massive deciduous magnolia from the Himalayas whose enormous basketball-sized blooms appear on the bare tree in earliest spring before it's leaves return.

It's a magical experience to stare up at the sky through the delicate latticework of the branches supporting the big cup–and-saucer shaped flowers.

This tree can take up to 20 years to flower and The SF Botanical Garden was the first in the US to display it in bloom to much public excitement in 1940. Magnolias are one of the first flowering plants and fossil records date them at 100 million years old.

There are more than a dozen other magnolia and magnolia relatives from Asia that flower in our garden at this time of year.

Rhoddies Run Wild

The rhododendrons get into the act now as well. Blooms can cover an entire six-foot tall plant. The colors are amazing and these plants shouldn't be missed. Purples, yellows, pinks, whites, bi-colors, they come in a huge variety of colors.

Rhododendrons have a more than 1,500-year history as prized garden plants in China. The earliest fossils are 50 million years old!

Rhododendrons love our cool climate. You only have to stroll through our rhododendron garden bursting with flowers in late February and March to quickly grasp this concept. To make the display even better, gardener Jason Martinez has added companion plants that you'd find in the rhoddies' native Asian mountain landscape.

Camellia Wonderland

This year looks especially promising for our large collection of camellias—just about every bush is packed with flower buds. Camellias are native to East Asia with many species clustered in southwestern China. This is another garden not to be missed. Our collection was recently expanded by 200 mature plants. It's a big group and when they're in bloom, you're walking through a flower wonderland.

There's a great diversity of size and flower in camellias. In China, camellias can grow for hundreds of years and can be 45 feet tall—that's as tall as a four story building. Black, red, green and white tea? They all come from the camellia.

This is the perfect time to plant camellias. They need shade or morning sun, very good drainage with lots of organic material—compost—in the soil. They'll need to be watered the first couple of years, but once established, your camellia will require little extra water.

There are many, many more Asian natives in bloom just in time to welcome in the Lunar New Year. Don't let the rain stop you, it's a sight not to be missed. Come by, we'd love to see you.

 

Back to February 2010 newsletter >>