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The Trailblazing, Tree Planting Kate Sessions Earned her Title as “Mother of Balboa Park”

Written by Cindy Marie Jenkins on Friday, November 10th, 2017 at 5:20pm.

She’s the Mother of Balboa Park, named for both an elementary school in Pacific Beach and park in Mount Soledad; the first woman to receive the prestigious Frank N. Meyer medal from the American Genetic Association. She is a Trailblazer, according to the Women’s Museum of California when she was inducted into the San Diego County Women’s Hall of Fame in 2006. She quite literally brought the “park” to Balboa Park, then named City Park. She is Kate Sessions.

While running a successful business and gaining her national reputation as a horticulture expert, Sessions leased land from the city to build her nursery. In addition to the 100 trees a year planted at “City Park,” historians can now point to more than 300 trees across the city that she planted as part of her Park Improvement Committee. You may see elements of The Lorax in Joshua Tree, but Kate Sessions was truly one who “speaks for the trees!” Enjoy some fast facts to learn how Balboa Park gained its exquisite beauty.

  • Sessions originally moved to San Diego to be a teacher. There are conflicting accounts as to whether she left the teaching profession because of bad health or to start her own business.

  • She owned her own company (partnered with Mr. and Mrs. Solon Blaisdell) and was quite the leading tastemaker in landscaping. Her articles and classes were part of the standard curriculum of city schools starting in 1915.

  • Most, if not all, of Balboa Park’s trees and landscaping are thanks to Kate Sessions.

  • In 1907 she founded the oldest garden club in Southern California, the San Diego Floral Association. They teach, publish a magazine California Garden, and keep membership open to all individuals so long as they’re interested in gardening and horticulture. No snobbery here; just a desire to pass on knowledge and traditions to any and all green thumbs.

  • The only full sculpture of a non fictional woman in San Diego is of Kate Sessions. She stands tall in bronze, guarding the entrance by Laurel Street Bridge.

  • The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever, a children’s picture book, tells of Kate's life, education, and contribution to San Diego civic life. Author H. Joseph Hopkins tells the story of the young woman who moves from the tree-laden landscapes in Northern California to the dry desert down South and finds her destiny.

  • Her graduation essay from UC Berkeley was titled “The Natural Sciences as a Field for Women's Labor," and she certainly found that path fruitful for herself.

  • A Tijuana Tipu Tree in Pacific Beach, which was planted as part of Sessions’ original nursery, is now a California Registered Historical Landmark.

  • A letter to the botanist and Sessions’ dear friend Alice Eastwood includes the line: “Our friendship developed through flowers...our children, which I am growing and you are naming.”

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