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From the Director

Dear Friends,

Versailles I: Plan of 1710 by Pierre Le Nôtre
Versailles I: Plan of 1710 by Pierre Le Nôtre

Robert Tetlow and perspective drawing for the Great Meadow
Robert Tetlow and perspective drawing for the
"Great Meadow"

As I looked out over the Great Meadow, the center of the Botanical Garden, this afternoon, I noticed two things. One was that there were no Canadian Geese today. Those great flying beasts are best appreciated from a distance, and since they are quite mobile and migratory there is little one can do to keep them in areas where they can be fully admired. The other, more noticeable element on the Meadow today is quite a bit of bright orange temporary fencing around the pathway areas that are being resurfaced there. These pathways have been deteriorating for decades, and finally they will be refurbished making them both safer and more attractive.

Robert Tetlow laid out the design for his particular configuration of pathways in the late 1950's, and it was a salute to Mid-Century Modern style. This particular version of modernity has a basis in the formal gardens of the European Continent in the 17th century. LeNotre's Versailles gardens were based on axial views with central features such as statuary and fountains in the center of the walkway or at the ends, drawing the eye into the distance. This was a great manipulation of perspective deriving from even earlier artistic traditions as in, for example, the paintings of Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci perfected the concept of perspective, eliminating the much more two dimensional style of the Medieval period.

Not unlike the layout of Versailles, our own garden arrangement on the Meadow has an entirely different look when seen from above. I suggest you walk up Heidelberg Hill just to the east of the fountain. From there you can easily see Tetlow's intention. The design of the pathways and the fountain always reminds me of one of those fancy hood ornaments on 1960's American cars. This one is vaguely in the Sputnik style, and, frankly, is more interesting when seen from this perspective.

So when this particular phase of the pathways project is completed, I'm sure it will appear both more Sputnik-like and, on the ground, more crisp as was the original intent. And once the machinery is gone I'm fairly certain our geese friends will reassert their space reinstating a bucolic overlay to the formality of the mid-century modern visitor circulation system.

This much-needed project will be completed, in its entirety not just this phase, before year-end and the garden will no longer see so much orange fencing. I have been gratified by comments our staff now continually hear from those visitors in wheelchairs who are delighted and relieved that they already have far greater access to many more areas of the Garden than before. I am glad for that as it was the chief aim of the project. But the project will also make everyone's garden experience much more enjoyable.

Please do not skip visiting the Garden because of the carefully zoned construction work. It's very beautiful right now, and there is a lot to see.

Warm regards,


Michael McKechnie
Executive Director, San Francisco Botanical Garden Society


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