The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1977, Volume 23, Number 4
James E. Moss, Editor
Thomas L. Scharf, Assistant Editor

Book Review

Douglas H. Strong, Book Review Editor

Kate Sessions: Pioneer Horticulturist. By Elizabeth C. MacPhail. San Diego: San Diego History Center 1976. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. 153 pages. $5.50, softbound. $8.50, clothbound.

Reviewed by Avery H. Gallup, Professor of Botany, San Diego State University.

Today, for most San Diegans, the name Kate Sessions holds little significance. Yet this pioneer horticulturist devoted over fifty years to the beautification of San Diego. She was largely responsible for landscaping and planting of Balboa Park which was the center of attraction during the 1915 Panama-California Exposition at which time the Cabrillo Bridge and California Tower were built. A second exposition in 1935 was also centered in the park and her plantings contributed greatly in making the venture a financial success.

Although she knew and worked with such business men as George Marston and John and Adolph Spreckels, she was hardly a successful business woman. While she always ran a nursery and grew large numbers of plants, more were given away than sold. Had it not been for the generosity of George Marston and others she might have been unable to pay her debts at the time of her death in 1940.

Mrs. MacPhail has written a sensitive and well documented account of Kate Sessions. Many photographs of historical interest are included as well as a list of plants popularized by Miss Sessions.

A useful addition would have been a map of the San Diego region showing the location of the various nurseries owned by Miss Sessions; Mission Cliff Gardens, Mt. Soledad, Grossmont, Hotel del Coronado, etc.

Two minor errors were noted. Daniel Cleveland, one of the founders of the San Diego Natural History Museum was an amateur botanist who collected marine algae. These specimens were sent to William Farlow at Harvard for study and identification. MacPhail confuses his algae with ice plants or mesembryanthemums, which were, incidentally, a favorite of Miss Sessions for use as ground cover plants in her landscaping. A second botanical error is in the statement that Nandina domestica is “of the bamboo family.” This plant belongs in the Berberidaceae or Barberry family.