The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1978, Volume 24, Number 3
Thomas L. Scharf, Managing Editor

By Dick Carlson

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Panama-California Exposition

San Diego was nothing but a reclaimed desert made beautiful because of the life’s work of one woman, Kate Sessions. Today, her name is still synonymous with horticulture and beauty.

Kate Sessions

Kate Sessions was called the “Mother of Balboa Park” and she was instrumental in landscaping more than 1000 acres in the center of San Diego. She had a passionate interest in the natural sciences and draped the canyons and hillsides of the park with trees and plants. Kate organized brigades of weekend gardeners and school children, like those above, who brought cuttings from home to plant in the earth. Her dreams and determination helped make San Diego’s 1915 Panama-California Exposition (left, above) and the later California Pacific International Exposition of 1935 financial successes.

Ironically, Kate Sessions’ selflessness almost caused her own financial ruin. She owned a commercial nursery but gave away more plants than she ever sold. If it were not for the generosity of local businessman George Marston and others her debts would have been unpaid at her death in 1940 at the age of eighty-three.

San Diego blossoms with color and fragrance because of the dedication of Kate Sessions.