Golden Gate Park was established in 1872 on a site of 410 hectares/1,013 acres, and is one of the finest city parks in the country. The long rectangular park has two distinct sections. The western section adjoining the Pacific Ocean is buffeted by fierce winds and salt-laden air, while the more sheltered eastern section is entered through the long, narrow Panhandle boulevard. It is the most remarkable 19th-century landscape improvement, since two-thirds of it comprised shifting sand dunes. The designer, William Hammond Hall, a surveyor and field engineer for the US Army Corps of Engineers, devised a successful reclamation program that was a form of accelerated plant succession. Using fast-growing evergreen trees, he created a forested park with meadows similar to Olmsted’s parks in the eastern states within five years. The lawn near the Sharon Quarters, one of the earliest children’s playgrounds in the country, typifies his skill as a landscape designer. Several other notable Victorian features survive, including the decorative Arizona Garden, a popular form of gardening using desert plants, not necessarily from Arizona. The large and elaborate Conservatory (1878) is one of the finest in the country, and the sandstone Richardsonian Romanesque style McLaren Lodge (1895) stands near the main entrance. Hall was succeeded as superintendent by the Scottish horticulturist John McLaren (1847-1943), whom he had trained. McLaren continually claimed complete authorship of the park, when his true contribution was to extend Hall’s design, by greatly increasing the range of broad-leafed evergreen plants from Asia, Europe, and Australasia. McLaren attempted to recreate natural scenes and was responsible for developing the Chain of Lakes, Stowe Lake, a naturalistic reservoir, and the polo field. The Music Concourse is a large formal arena with pleached London plane trees and an Italian Renaissance colonnade (1899) that is flanked by the California Academy of Sciences and the M. H. De Young Memorial Museum. The Japanese Tea Garden was created by Makoto Hagiwara (1854-1925) as a commercial tea garden with plants brought from Japan. The oldest features are the Main Gate, and the Moon Bridge. In 1915 the Pagoda, Temple Gate, and South Gate were installed. Irrigation was a major problem from the inception of the park and the continued drilling to tap ground water culminated in 1905 with the erection of two windmills close to the ocean. The Strybing Arboretum was initiated in 1937 on a site of 24 hectares/55 acres. The present layout dates from 1966 with South African, eastern Australian, New Zealand, and California areas, and collections of dwarf conifers, succulents, and fragrant plants arranged around a large oval lawn with a focal fountain.
- David C. Streatfield
From The Oxford Companion to the Garden which The Washington Post recently called “the perfect guide for anyone who wants to learn in an entertaining way about magnificent classical to contemporary gardens of the world.” Every Friday in August we’ll highlight a different public garden from the Companion to the Garden.