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From the Executive Director

Dear Friends,

Scenes from San Francisco Botanical Garden.

Entering SFBG

Building the park from sand dunes

San Francisco Botanical Garden

Portion of the Garden with De Young and SF Bay in background

Moon Viewing Garden

Speedway Meadow

Sunnier weather has drawn more visitors recently onto the Great Lawn of the Botanical Garden. It is always a treat to see individuals, families, and groups of children strolling around this unusually beautiful open space and delighting in it. It's also a pleasure to look out at the Lawn through the tall windows of the Helen Crocker Russell Library of Horticulture in the early evening when most visitors have left the Garden. The Great Lawn never ceases to astonish me with its undulating beauty, subtly changing almost minute by minute in the shifting California light.

Of course, all of this beauty has been carefully cultivated for a very long time. In the 1860's and 1870's this was a howling, windy place, home to sand dunes in a constant flux of forms. At about this time William Hammond Hall, with experience as a military engineer specializing in beach stabilization, came along. He mounted a plan to harness the dunes and begin a great urban park. This became the largest public park in America, our beloved Golden Gate Park. There are old photos of workmen behind horses and plows introducing heavier soils and manure from downtown stables into the sand and planting seedlings, some of which have become the mighty cypresses and pines that still form the horticultural backbone of the Park and the Botanical Garden. Of course, we are eternally grateful to John McLaren, Park Superintendent for more than 50 years, and our own Helene Strybing whose generous bequest in 1923 provided the financial backbone for the San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum.

The Great Lawn and many other portions of the Botanical Garden reflect centuries of gardening tradition borrowed liberally from our pasts. Most obvious on the Lawn is the influence of 18th century English landscape great, Capability Brown. Our salute to his careful modeling of terrain and artfully arranged tree plantings dominates the emotional sense one gets when first looking at the Lawn. Then there are the organizing principles deriving from the French Grand Manner that show up in the ellipses around the fountain and those that ring the Great Lawn, giving its undulations a frame. Finally, also from the Grand Manner, but softened by Brown's English picturesque esthetic, is the long axis running from the Main Gate through the Fountain on the Lawn and then terminating at the beautiful Zellerbach Garden of Perennials with its handsome troika of pergolas.

There are many examples derived from the Eastern garden esthetic throughout the Botanical Garden as well. The Moon Viewing Garden is a good example. Here, the setting is far more intimate. There is asymmetry, so different from the open, largely symmetrical vistas of the Great Lawn. Yet this asymmetry is beautifully balanced and serene. Fenced enclosures, quiet contemplative ponds, and gentle, irregular falling water courses bring our consciousness inward.

What we all have in this Garden is the genius, hard work and philanthropy of many generations of San Franciscans who have cared enough for the future to continue to invest in the splendid collection of gardens representing many gardening traditions from throughout the planet. Now begins the best season to enjoy a warm walk among these stunning collections assembled with such care. I hope if you haven't visited for a while you will put the Botanical Garden on your calendar for a regenerating stroll.

Warm regards,


Michael McKechnie
Executive Director, San Francisco Botanical Garden Society


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