San Diego’s Gardening Heritage
October 1, 1988
“Paradise on Earth” and “Garden City” are but two of the many expressions used to describe San Diego’s horticultural beauty to the rest of the world. What makes these complimentary names somewhat ironic, however, is that most of what is assumed to be the city’s “natural” greenery has all been planted by recent generations. Only with the introduction of large amounts of imported water by the 1880s did San Diego’s true natural landscapes — one almost devoid of greenery — blossom. World acclaimed horticulturists like Alfred Robinson and Kate Olivia Sessions would also make San Diego their home and further its gardening fame. Ordinary residents too banded together and founded the San Diego Floral Association with its magazine California Garden — the nation’s oldest continuously published horticultural magazine. The following brief selection of photographs highlights this heritage of San Diego gardening.
Gardening in early San Diego was more utilitarian than ornamental-like this olive grove and vegetable garden at Mission San Diego, (c. 1850s). Our romantic view of “Mission Gardens” dates from the late nineteenth century.
To attract speculators to his “New Town” development, businessman Alonzo Horton (at center, with stove pipe hat) planted what became known as “Horton’s Garden” (seen here in summer bloom). Horton wanted to convince prospective buyers that San Diego land would grow almost anything if it received water.
This beautiful San Diego residence (now gone) was designed by the famed architectural team of Greene and Greene of Pasadena for Michael Kew. The new landscaping (probably also by the Greenes) can be viewed in the foreground.
By 1914 when this photograph of the C. S. Hamilton residence on La Playa was taken, San Diego residents were already exploring the possibilities of moving away from the grid of downtown streets and building their homes in the city’s many rambling canyons and hills — thus posing new landscaping challenges.
Cover: A portion of the exquisite Rose Garden at San Diego’s 1915 Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park. The love San Diegans have for flowers and gardening has given the city such nicknames as “Paradise on Earth” and the “Garden City” — the 1915 Expo as well was also called the “Garden Fair.” A brief photographic essay in this issue highlights some of the city’s gardening tradition. San Diego Historical Society Title Insurance and Trust Collection.
All of the photographs are from the San Diego Historical Society’s Title Insurance and Trust Collection.