Debbie Arrington

Seeds: Two garden events in the Bay Area worth the gas

The San Francisco Botanical Garden marks its 75th birthday with activities on Sunday.
The San Francisco Botanical Garden marks its 75th birthday with activities on Sunday. Sacramento Bee file

These garden parties are worth a road trip.

Two major events in celebration of world-famous gardens – and gardeners – will attract thousands of patrons to the Bay Area. One is a special birthday commemoration, the other a farewell.

On Sunday, May 31 the beloved San Francisco Botanical Garden officially marks its 75th birthday with a special community day. In keeping with its globe-spanning collection of more than 8,000 kinds of plants, the garden’s birthday party features an international theme with world music and dance as well as tours of its extensive collections.

“SFBG is truly a jewel within Golden Gate Park,” said Phil Ginsburg, general manager of San Francisco’s Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees the garden. “It is the city’s own global garden where the incredible biodiversity of our planet is accessible to all.”

Snuggled into Golden Gate Park near Ninth Avenue, the 55-acre garden opened in 1940 as the Strybing Arboretum. At the request of benefactor Helene Strybing, it specialized in native plants, particularly those used medicinally by American Indians, as well as exotic flora. Rare plants from New Zealand that had been imported for San Francisco’s 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition were part of the garden’s original collection.

But it was a magnolia that put this garden on the horticultural map. Now a common sight in winter throughout California, a cup and saucer magnolia planted at the arboretum became the first of its kind to bloom in the United States. Hundreds of people lined up at the botanical garden’s exhibit to catch a glimpse of its beautiful pink flowers. That magnolia tree survives to this day, entertaining thousands more visitors with its spectacular blooms.

Now, it has a lot more company, the botanical garden being home to one of the most significant collections of rare magnolias outside China. The arboretum also boasts its own “Cloud Forest,” featuring endangered trees, shrubs and other flora of Central and South America. Started in 1984, the Cloud Forest is a slice of tropical rain forest in the city and is one of a handful of such collections worldwide.

These plants not only look interesting to visitors, they help preserve their species.

“This extraordinary garden, right in the heart of the city, is treasured for the peace, respite and enchantment it offers to all who visit, but it is also so much more,” said Sue Ann Schiff, executive director of San Francisco Botanical Garden Society. “Many of the plants you can see here are among the last survivors of their species. A number are no longer found in the wild.

“The important propagation, conservation and public education work that takes place here at SFBG ensures that future generations can know and appreciate the rich diversity of our larger world.”

During Sunday’s celebration, docents will lead tours of the garden’s bounty. Among the other highlights are a stand of century-old redwoods, collections of perennials, rhododendrons, camellias, succulents and dwarf conifers, and gardens featuring the plants of Asia, Chile, South Africa, Australia, Mediterranean and New Zealand.

Take a sweater; it can get chilly in this garden’s shady forests.

Sunset celebration

South of San Francisco in Menlo Park will be another major garden-oriented event, but this one represents a last chance to see a unique California institution.

On June 6 and 7, Sunset magazine hosts its final Celebration Weekend at its famous headquarters. Located at 80 Willow Road, the 7-acre campus recently was sold and the magazine will be moving its headquarters and staff.

For this last Celebration Weekend at its longtime home, Sunset is putting together a huge event featuring dozens of celebrity chefs and gardening experts. In Sunset’s words, it’s “an interactive showcase for the region’s most exciting lifestyle inspiration and freshest flavors.”

Chefs Martin Yan and Chris Cosentino headline the roster of well-known culinary experts who will lead cooking demonstrations. An all-star lineup of gardening experts such as John Greenlee, known for his modern meadows, and author Debra Prinzing, who launched the “Slow Flower” movement, will lead workshops and discussions.

Sunset staff built “The New Backyard Cottage” as a walk-through example of what readers can do at home. Wine seminars and more DIY home ideas will keep patrons buzzing and busy.

The party runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Tickets are $25 in advance online; $35 at the door. Details and tickets: www.sunset.com/cw.

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