San Francisco Botanical Garden
San Francisco, California

This 55-acre garden in Golden Gate Park opened to the public in 1940, as the Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. The name changed in 2004 but I still think of it as the Strybing.

Friend Gate

I first visited about 20 years ago, when the Meso-American Cloud Forest had just been planted. The garden made a strong impression on me so I've always wanted to revisit.

Most of the garden is very park-like, similar in feel to the rest of Golden Gate Park.

Arboretum overview

The garden contains more than 7,500 taxa. The plant collections are mostly laid out geographically, featuring areas with plants from Australia, New Zealand, South America, Southeast and East Asia, South Africa and Meso-America. The plantings represent areas with Mediterranean, mild temperate and tropical cloud forest climatic regions.

The most famous and important of the collections is the Meso-American Cloud Forest. Very few gardens in the United States have the conditions to grow these plants so most of the plants are uncommon to see.

cloud forest

The cloud forest feels overgrown to me but there are beautiful and unusual plants, like this
Cestrum elegans.

Cestrum elegans

Near the entrance if a small bed of alpine plants.

alpine garden

It's a lovely small display and contains one of my favorite plants,
Raoulia lutescens, from New Zealand. It looks so much like a lichen I'm always surprised by it. It's another plant that very few gardens have the climate to grow.

Raoulia lutescens

A major plant collection is Rhododendrons. In July there were few blooms, but there is a new Rhododendron Pavilion which will create a focal point for the collection.

Rhododendron Pavilion

Another highlight is the Garden of Fragrance. Designed as a garden for the visually impaired it's sort of an expanded herb garden. The plants are all relatively common, but the layout of raised beds with beautiful walls, meandering trails and water makes for a very interesting and pleasing garden.

Garden of Fragrance

I was a little disappointed by the overall level of care, and I hate to see graffiti in a garden.

graffiti on bookstore

Twenty years ago I thought it was wonderful that the arboretum was free for everyone. Now I'm not so sure. The level of care suggests that money is a problem and charging even a small fee would add to the coffers. I've also come to believe that people place a greater value on things if they have to pay for them. I think even a token charge would raise the level of public appreciation for the garden.

I was less impressed this visit than I was twenty years ago. Part of that is I've seen a lot more gardens, but I think it's also that the gardens have deteriorated a bit. But don't let that stop you from visiting. It's still a wonderful place to wander through and you're likely to see plants you never knew existed.

To see more photos of the garden, click

here to visit the official website of the San Francisco Botanical Garden.

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