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From the Executive Director

Dear Friends,

An amazing new garden structure is rapidly taking shape in the Rhododendron Garden, itself under renovation. This circular structure is the centerpiece of the garden and, perhaps more importantly, is being constructed from stone remnants of the same 12th century Spanish monastery as the Library Terrace Garden, the recently improved Garden of Fragrance, the Succulent Garden and the California Native Garden. These stones until recently were "melting away in the weeds" as chief stone mason Edwin Hamilton says. "Now they are being presented in a respectful manner for all to enjoy in this great museum, the Botanical Garden."

Stone work in the SF Botanical Garden.

Stone work in SF Botanical Garden

Stone work in SF Botanical Garden

Stone work in SF Botanical Garden

I have just come from an interview with Edwin, and his two most experienced stone masons, Rogelio Ortiz and Eustorgio Chavez. It is their story I really want to share with you. Rogelio and Eustorgio are descendents of the Zapotec and Chatino people who built the mighty city of Monte Alban nearly 2,500 years ago high above the Valley of Oaxaca in south-central Mexico. Rogelio tells me that he knows his family has been working with stone for at least 300 years, and that he learned from his father and grandfather.

They told me about the pleasure it gives them to work with stone -- both the soft limestone being used here in the Garden and tough granite on other jobs -- and the pleasure it seems to give those who watch as these talented men work the stone. We discussed that there is such an ancientness to this kind of construction, that it is so rare in the United States, and that it appeals to people much the way gardens do by harkening back to our collective distant past.

They also told me that they love being part of a continuum and observing the reverence people have for good stone work. "Stonework has a universality to it", Edwin says, "a universality that transcends all cultures and epochs".

You still have time to watch these craftsmen at work for the next few weeks. It is mesmerizing as they find just the right stone, create templates to guide their hammers and chisels, and then, with accurate but forceful stokes, coax the stone into just the right shape.

We are being given a gift, one that will endure for many generations, one that evokes all our pasts and provides us with a place from which to launch our exploration of the beautiful and rare collection of rhododendrons we are assembling. If you see Rogelio or Eustorgio at work, give them a big thumbs up. You will be rewarded with a shy smile of pride.

Warm regards,


Michael McKechnie
Executive Director, San Francisco Botanical Garden Society


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