By Teo Spengler
It’s the best of cheap thrills that the expensive City by the Bay offers: the San Francisco Botanical Garden. All you need is a photo ID proving you live in San Francisco to get in FREE any day of the week. And oh what treasures await you.
Located within fabled Golden Gate Park, the botanical garden could be called a living museum. Since San Francisco has a Mediterranean climate, it can successfully host plants from all around the globe – and it does. Its 55 acres of land offer visitors the chance to inspect and admire over 7,500 plant varieties from across the world. Some refer to it as a plant sanctuary, since it houses plants that no longer grow in their native habitat.
I like to start close to home and visit the Arthur Menzies Garden of California Native Plants. The very best time to tour the California collection is between April and June, but great sights can also be seen in December and even February. And since the California plants are grouped in the Mediterranean Collection, you can also stroll through collections from the Mediterranean, Australia, Chile and South Africa.
You’ll find a redwood grove in the California Native Plant Garden. The Redwood Grove contains century old, magnificent Sequoias as well as understory trees, shrubs and groundcovers. I love these giant trees, but they are not the only splendid ones in the botanical garden. It also contains the largest and most comprehensive collection of high elevation palm species you’ll find in any botanical garden, anywhere. Some of these normally grow at an elevation of 11,000 feet in their native habitats. I keep going back to look, since they say many of the palms will flower in the next 5-10 years.
I am always drawn to the Cloud Forest Collection, almost as much for its enchanting name as for the fascinating cloud forest plants native to Mesoamerica and the Andes in South America. I always feel privileged to pass through this section, since many flowering shrubs and trees are endangered in their native countries. Visit the Mesoamerican Collection in November or December and the Andean Collection in September or October. A section on Southeast Asian cloud forest plants is in development.
Other personal favorites of mine include the Garden of Fragrance, the dwarf conifers, and the succulents. I also love walking by the central pond, where you can often see a small group of Canadian geese who came one winter and stayed on.
Yet with all this international wealth at my fingertips, I must admit that my heart belongs to the Magnolia Collection. The magnolia trees comprise the world’s fourth most significant collection of magnolia species. They are scattered around the botanical garden and have different bloom times from December through April. I tend to visit every week during this period so that I don’t miss even one spectacular display.