A Photographer Looks at San Diego Botanic Garden

Through the Lens

By: Saxon Holt

Saxon Holt is a professional garden photographer who contributes regularly to Pacific Horticulture and is widely published in books such as Hardy Succulents, The…

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A shady path through the Mediterranean Garden at San Diego Botanical Garden passes beneath an intertwined canopy of cork oak. Photo: Saxon Holt

A shady path through the Mediterranean Garden at San Diego Botanical Garden passes beneath an intertwined canopy of cork oak. Photo: Saxon Holt

San Diego is one of those Pacific cities blessed with a year-round growing climate. There is always something looking spectacular in almost any garden. So I went to San Diego Botanic Garden (SDBG) in early March with open eyes looking to be inspired and to make some pictures.

Occasionally I see a cork oak (Quercus suber) used as a specimen tree in any number of well-considered summer-dry gardens, but in the Mediterranean where this tree is native there are forests of them. Somehow I doubt their native understory is anything like this grove at SDBG.

The Undersea Succulent Garden at San Diego Botanic Garden designed by Jeff Moore is planted with water smart succulents to simulate a tropical coral reef, overflowing with marine life. Photo: Saxon Holt

The Undersea Succulent Garden at San Diego Botanic Garden designed by Jeff Moore is planted with water smart succulents to simulate a tropical coral reef, overflowing with marine life. Photo: Saxon Holt

The Undersea Succulent Garden designed and created by Jeff Moore is a permanent fixture at SDBG. I saw the garden when it was first installed but I didn’t anticipate being so taken with the fantastical succulent landscape now that it has matured. The shapes and textures blend with ease and make picture taking a breeze.

Pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii var. reasoneri). Photo: Saxon Holt

Pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii var. reasoneri). Photo: Saxon Holt

I don’t think I had ever seen a pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii var. reasoneri) growing in a garden, which I say as much to show my ignorance of palms as the fact that these palms are tropical and need more water than most of the gardens I frequent. Nonetheless, after seeing this gorgeous cluster, I will not easily forget its name or stop lusting for a garden where I could make this happen.

Tip: This photo was made with my 70 – 200 zoom lens at f:22 on my tripod for good depth of field so that I could compress the textures and create a composition where fully two thirds of the frame are the feathery palm fronds. Fortunately, I was able to back down a pathway in the garden that allowed me to use the zoom lens; otherwise, if I wanted to include this much of the foliage, I would have been too close to the trees which would have forced me to see the distraction of bright sky behind them.


San Diego Botanic Garden
230 Quail Gardens Drive
Encinitas, California 92024

The mission of San Diego Botanic Garden is to inspire people of all ages to connect with plants and nature. www.sdbgarden.org