California Garden magazine has educated and entertained garden lovers since 1909, making it the oldest, continuously running, horticultural magazine in the United States. The San Diego Floral Association celebrated that remarkable longevity with a superb showcase of the magazine’s finest work.
California Garden: Centennial Compilation, 1909-2009 reprints nearly 200 articles written by dozens of esteemed horticulturists. Organized topically, with chapters such as Planting San Diego, The Next Level: Design, Days of Glory: Flower Shows, and At Home in Balboa Park, the volume’s reprised articles feature the practical, with timely advice and observations geared for the California climate.
Valuable essays by Kate O Sessions and Alfred D Robinson—founders of the Floral Association in 1907—are reprinted here. Editorial bias favors these early writers, admits the editor, who believes the older articles still “charm with their viewpoint” but remain relevant today.
Much of the older work concerns San Diego’s historic Balboa Park. The 1,400-acre tract was covered with treeless chaparral and ignored by the public after it was set aside as a city park in 1868. In the early 1900s, park planners and horticulturalists transformed the land. Members of the Floral Association—particularly Robinson—were effective advocates for beautifying the park for the Panama California Exposition. Among Robinson’s significant contributions was the landmark Botanical Building, the world’s largest lath house when it opened in 1915 in Balboa Park. Robinson describes his original vision in these pages, and modern-day historians Kathy Puplava and Lucy Warren update the building’s history with articles written in 1990.
Other Balboa Park gems abound. A 1913 feature describes a visit to the exposition nurseries, used to propagate the thousands of seedlings that would soon cover the park hillsides. A 1943 retrospective by landscape architect and park director W Allen Perry recounts the difficulties in planting the barren acreage in the early century. “For Heaven’s sake, just give it back to the coyotes,” San Diegans would say as they watched park gardeners labor in the hardpan soil.
Written for a region stressed by environmental challenges, California Garden has always emphasized common sense conservation. A chapter on Ecology and the Environment Back When, describes the persistent perils of insects and fires and the value of local wildflowers and native growths. An article from 1921 describes a prescient campaign led by the Floral Association to create a county park in an oak grove to save it from developers.
Contemporary issues have always been evident in the magazine’s pages. With the world at war in 1918, California Garden showed readers how to Save Seed and plant Fresh Vegetables for Fighters. Concern over California’s chronic droughts produced articles on water-wise gardening. In 1969, the rise of mobile home parks was illustrated in Trailer Gardens: a Look at the New Mode of Living. The chapter called Going to School remembers a time when copies of California Garden were sent to San Diego schools. For “the training of hand and eye and ear which comes from gardening in the pure air,” teachers were encouraged to promote school gardens. Included here are several pages of letters from children describing their garden plots at school and home in 1921.
Hundreds of black and white illustrations accompany the text throughout this attractive volume. Reproductions of contemporary advertisements from nurseries and garden shows highlight the pages, and well-designed covers of California Garden show that the magazine has been attentively produced over the decades. This volume is a worthy and valuable tribute to an important periodical that continues to enrich our understanding of California horticulture.
The book is available from the San Diego Floral Association, 1650 El Prado #105, San Diego, CA 92011.
Richard Crawford, librarian
San Diego, California