It’s Always Spring in San Francisco

This past year has been all about visiting places during spring time or visiting places where spring is eternally sprung, and one of my last trips of the year was no exception. I visited San Francisco this November to get a taste of some cooler, less humid weather and I was astounded by all the plant babies and nature the west coat had to offer.

Day 1: Moss Landing State Beach & St. Carmel

My first day in California was out and around Monterey and the St. Carmel Mission. I took a side trip to Moss Landing State Beach where the weather and water were an icy blue-gray and the waves were about 10 ft high. The beach reminded me a lot of New Zealand because of it’s fine sand and stiff winds, but also because a familiar plant baby was growing along the dunes: ice plants. These ice plants were a pop of color in a more subdued blue and gray landscape.  Their green, red, and purple colors were hugging the backs of the dunes and made it seem like there was a sea of glowing grass.  These ice plants had taken over a lot of the natural California dune plants and many of them had been pulled up and piled by the port-o-potties where they were sunburned, shriveling, and propagating new roots.  I was tempted to take a few cuttings of these discarded plants, but given they are such aggressive growers I thought against it.

The next stop was the Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo in the town of Carmel-by-the-sea. The mission was founded in 1771 and was the second mission in what was then Alta California. The old mission was at first a flourishing church, but after it was closed by the Mexican government in 1834 it was left to ruins until it’s restoration began in 1884. The church quadrangle is beautifully landscaped and many of the plants are desert cacti and succulents. The history of the church is long and complex, and there are several museums and exhibitions dedicated to telling its story. I very much enjoyed wandering the grounds and meandering through the halls and gardens because it almost felt like going back in time.

Day 2: Monterey to Big Sur to San Francisco

My second day in California was mostly spent driving down the coast from Monterey to Big Sur then back up the coast to San Francisco. I managed to see cacti, succulents, seals, and sea otters on Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf then explored the beauty of the coast with stops in Carmel River State Beach, California’s Sea Otter State Game Refuge, and finally Big Sur. The landscape was eerily similar to New Zealand with the biggest difference being the elevation and the size of the waves off the coast.  As we made our way closer to Big Sur, ice plants and sea oats gave way to large ever greens and redwoods. The drive to San Francisco was full of coastal views then sand dunes made way for emerald green expansive pastures filled with cows and horses. When we finally made it to San Francisco we stopped at Twin Peaks to watch the sunset.  It was the coldest, windiest sunset I’ve ever witnessed, but seeing the moon in that periwinkle sky made it all worth it.

Day 3: San Francisco Botanical Garden & Conservatory of Flowers

On the final leg of my trip I visited Golden Gate Park which is home to the San Francisco Botanical Garden and the Conservatory of Flowers.  The botanic garden offers 55 acres of land with about “8,000 different kinds of plants from around the world.” I found that the plants I was most attracted to in the garden were the South African, New Zealand, and Ancient Plant gardens.  San Francisco’s unique climate allows South African proteas, New Zealand fern trees, and ancient cycads to exist together in one garden. The Ancient Plant garden was a real treat because it lays out a timeline of the evolution of plants through the 5 epochs.  It’s a display of how plants began as low growing water dependent organisms in the Devonian epoch to larger, tree sized plants in the Pennsylvanian epoch to finally flowering plants and trees in the Eocene. This exhibit is a short walk, but is jam packed full of plants that will make you feel as though you’re backwards then forward in time.

The conservatory is another gem in Golden Gate Park that is about a 15 minute walk from the botanic garden. According to their website, the Conservatory of Flowers “is the oldest public wood-and-glass conservatory in North America” and “one of the most photographed and beloved attractions in San Francisco.” Although the flower beds outside the conservatory were going through some maintenance while I was there, I was still very much impressed with tropical gardens inside, especially with the orchid displays and the lily pond.

At the beginning of 2016 I resolved to follow spring around the country and managed to accomplish my goal. This year along I’ve traveled to over 20 gardens, parks, and conservatories in the United States and New Zealand! It’s been such a happy, plant baby filled year, and I’m excited about the adventures yet to come in 2017.

Next up in 2017: a reflection on Denver Botanic Garden’s Blossoms of Light and a January trip to Ireland and England!

Do you have questions about my visit to San Francisco? How about the gardens, parks, and beaches I visited along the way? Are you looking to plan a trip? Or do you just have questions about your indoor and outdoor plant babies?  If you’d like to know more about my travels or if you have questions about your plant colony, leave a comment below or feel free to contact The Garden Generalist. I would love to hear from you!


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