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From the Executive Director

Dear Friends,

Arbor Day Related Events:

April 20: “The Legacies of Trees and Foresight: San Francisco Botanical Garden and Cypress Lawn”

April 24th: Joint SFBGS-Bartlett Tree Experts Celebration

Lunar New Year Flower Market 2007

Monterrey Cypress as viewed from the Library Courtyard

Lunar New Year Flower Market 2007

Children planting a tree in the Children's Garden

Bartlett Tree Experts trimming trees at the Garden

I suspect that many Americans think of Arbor Day as a quaint idea honored nowadays by a few schools throughout the nation. In fact, when you look at its history it has great significance for today with the rapid deforestation of the planet as a backdrop. Its history also has a roundabout connection with San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. But what was the genesis of Arbor Day?

The tradition was begun by Sterling Morton who with his family moved from Detroit to the nearly treeless Nebraska Territory in 1854. He, his family and fellow pioneers missed the trees of the landscape they had left behind. Moreover, trees were badly needed to stabilize the soils and provide shade, windbreaks, fuel and building materials. Morton became a zealous tree booster and encouraged civic organizations to join in. His position as the Territory's chief journalist provided a forum for his urgings which were enthusiastically taken up by his friends and neighbors.

On January 4, 1872 Morton first proposed a tree-planting to be called “Arbor Day”. The date was officially set for April 10 of that same year. Prizes were offered for those who planted the most trees, and it is estimated that more than 1,000,000 trees were planted in Nebraska on that day.

The connection to Golden Gate Park? This park and additional great swathes of the San Francisco peninsula were sand dunes before Europeans entered the scene. Windswept and devoid of trees, most residents despaired of anything useful, much less beautiful, coming out of these scrub brush covered shifting piles of sand. Then along came William Hammond Hall with a specialty in stabilizing beaches for the US Army. He soon had teams plowing heavier soils and, ahem, stable sweepings into the dunes. Then he planted trees, hundreds of thousands of them. The result is there for all to see with some of those early seedlings now majestic, venerable giants still holding the soil and providing shade.

To both honor our arboreal giants and even more important to bring awareness to the need for conservation and restoration of trees throughout the globe, the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society will celebrate Arbor Day twice. The first will be on April 20 with our business partner Cypress Lawn. Their tree canopy greatly resembles ours, and they house the remains of at least two people significant to Golden Gate Park and the Botanical Garden. One is John McLaren who ruled Golden Gate park as its superintendent for 50 years. The other is our own beloved Helene Strybing whose 1923 gift founded this Garden.

Then on April 24th -- the day before the “official” Arbor Day in California -- there will be a celebration in the Botanical Garden sponsored by another of our business partners, Bartlett Tree Experts. Bartlett did such an amazingly sensitive job of caring for our aging tree canopy last year, and we want to feature them and their good work.

So there will be many school children participating (definitely a part of the original celebrations) and observing what arborists do (they hang from ropes in trees, cool!) and there will be a tree planting ceremony, other children's activities and cookies. What a great way for young people to learn about trees, their care, and their importance to the planet.

Don't forget our next plant sale Saturday, April 5 from 10:00 to 1:00 when we will sell trees and feature epiphyllums, those “Show Girls” of the plant world!

In friendship,


Michael McKechnie
Executive Director, San Francisco Botanical Garden Society


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