Golden Gate Park

Merger Proposed for GG Park’s Popular Garden Attractions

By Jonathan Farrell

A proposal by the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department recommends merging the Conservatory of Flowers, the Japanese Tea Garden and the Botanical Garden into a new entity to be known as “The Gardens of Golden Gate Park.” The proposal received unanimous support by members of the SF Recreation and Park Commission on Nov. 18.  

Under the proposed merger, Rec. and Park would continue to oversee maintenance and horticulture at all the gardens. Yet, it would be the SF Botanical Garden Society which would manage the new group.

The Conservatory of Flowers is a local, state and national landmark. It was erected in 1879, the first structure built in Golden Gate Park. Photos by Michael Durand.

Rec. and Park commissioners will recommend to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors that the Board approve an amendment efforts to expand the nonprofit’s current lease and management agreement of the San Francisco Botanical Garden to also include the Conservatory of Flowers and the Japanese Tea Garden.

All revenue from admissions to all three venues would be forwarded to Rec. and Park, which would then reimburse the nonprofit SF Botanical Garden Society for its approved expenses. Rec. and Park and the nonprofit would coordinate management of plant collections.

The proposal suggests the merging would allow visitors to enjoy a simpler ticketing admission system and help staff at each site to ensure a positive experience. 

Aiming to envision a more extensive goal, The “Gardens of Golden Gate Park” would seek to establish itself as a top 10 botanical garden in the country. The plan, over the next five to 10 years, is to establish new collections and exhibits, expand public programs and uphold a larger role in worldwide conservation efforts. This would include:

• More diverse gardens with new plant collections, such as an African cloud forest garden;

• Expanded global plant conservation efforts protecting biodiversity in the face of climate change and the extinction crisis;

• Upgraded accessibility and improved garden designs, pathways and maintenance;

• More public programs with existing and new community partners, like Flower Piano at the Botanical Garden and Night Bloom at the Conservatory of Flowers;

• Improved interpretation and educational resources, including new digital tools;

• Major capital projects, such as a new Children’s Garden in the west end of the Botanical Garden. They propose to build off the momentum of recent projects, like pagoda restoration at the Japanese Tea Garden and the Celebration Garden and new plant nursery at Botanical Garden, and;

• A smoother, more cohesive experience for visitors and volunteers at each location.  

Golden Gate Park’s Japanese Tea Garden, the oldest Japanese Garden in the United States, is one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist attractions. The peaceful setting has welcomed visitors from around the world since it was created in 1894 for the California Midwinter International Exposition.

“The San Francisco Botanical Garden Society is a highly qualified, longtime city partner with a strong track record,” said SF Rec. and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg. “It has guided the San Francisco Botanical Garden’s evolution into a world-class attraction. Merging these gardens under the same successful operation will create organizational and operational efficiencies, inspire philanthropy and deliver on our mission to connect people to nature and each other.” 

Proponents of the proposed merger believe it would eliminate nonprofit redundancies. The advantage in this merging is estimated to save approximately $400,000 a year. Streamlining would allow visitors, volunteers and schoolchildren to experience a combined educational and cultural experience. Those in favor of the proposal say the merging would also attract greater philanthropic support for capital improvements at each location.

Established more than 60 years ago, the SF Botanical Garden Society has grown in its role. Since 2010, the Society’s management has increased annual visits to the Botanical Gardens by 135%.

In October of this year, the Society broke ground to rebuild the San Francisco Botanical Garden’s nursery as a 34,000-square-foot complex. Once finished, the new nursery will allow the Garden to acquire rare species and support global conservation efforts.

“Our vision is that the Gardens of Golden Gate Park will become a leading cultural and conservation institution over the next decade, with new partnerships, master plan, interpretive plan, museum accreditation, enhanced visitor experience and robust community engagement,” said SF Botanical Garden Society Executive Director Stephanie Linder.

A line forms at the Botanical Garden for the 2021 Flower Piano event.

Previously known as the Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, it was the expressed intention by the Strybing family, who donated the arboretum to the City, that admission be free to all. An uproar occurred when admission fees were instituted at the Botanical Garden in 2010. Currently, the Botanical Garden is free to San Francisco residents, but visitors pay an entrance fee.

How this merging of all three gardens will take shape hinges upon the Board of Supervisors’ approval. Golden Gate Park is governed and protected by the City Charter. No date was provided for when the proposal will be presented to the Board of Supervisors. 

3 replies »

  1. This sounds nice in theory, but won’t this drive up ticket costs? And Ginsburg saying, “…our mission to connect people and nature to each other..” is a farce. He just put food trucks up on the Great Highway with no notice to residents or local merchants. Encouraging people to stand around concrete, trample the dunes and median plants, and buy food and drinks in disposable containers is hardly encouraging nature time. So what are the downsides to this plan? Ginsburg is not at all trustworthy.


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