The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1988, Volume 34, Number 4
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

“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.

What may be the earliest depiction of a San Diego “garden,” appears on a map of the Royal Presidio of San Diego (c. 1820) and denotes the “Commandant’s Large Orchard.”

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.

The James Mc Coy house in Old Town had a white picket fence that bordered “Garden Street”

Gardening in San Diego’s Old Town also had a practical side, but some ornamental shrubs and trees were beginning to appear by the 1870s as can be seen in the photograph opposite.

Photo shows the abundance of plant material available at the time. The Augustus Felix Kinchman residence, c. 1875

Capron residence with an elaborate arched trellis walkway.

Horton's Garden  
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.

McDonald Family  
The McDonald Family relaxes in their San Diego garden: photographed in April 1872.

Sixth and Beech Streets, 1902.  
San Diego’s Sixth and Beech Streets bloom, 1902.

Kew home  
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.

Hamilton residence on La Playa  
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.

Rose Garden at 1915 Panama-California Exposition  
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.

ads from SDHC Research Archives  
Back cover:
ads from SDHC Research Archives.
[Miss K.O.Sessions; Johansen Brothers]

All of the photographs are from the San Diego Historical Society’s Title Insurance and Trust Collection.