Golden Gate Park

State-of-the-Art Greenhouse Opening Soon in GG Park’s Botanical Garden

By Linda Badger

The San Francisco Botanical Garden is about to realize its dream of opening a fully operational, state-of-the-art plant nursery to replace the deteriorated facilities it operated for more than 55 years.

 “The new plant nursery will enable us to expand and enhance our plant collections and fulfill our vital role as a leading botanical garden, in service to the public while also supporting global conservation efforts,” said Ryan Guillou, director of Collections and Conservation of the Gardens of Golden Gate Park.  

The new greenhouse under construction in the Botanical Garden will replace the deteriorated facilities that were in use for more than 55 years. Courtesy photo.

The San Francisco Botanical Garden is home to many unique and threatened plants, from here and around the world, including its magnolias, high elevation palms and plants from cloud forest regions. Starting this summer, the gardeners and volunteers will work in a new nursery complex in the Botanical Garden to propagate and conserve these and other plants for its “living collection.” 

The Garden will also share seeds, cuttings and plants with other institutions promoting conservation, and will import new plants from around the world to diversify its own collection here in San Francisco.  

Construction of the new nursery complex began in the fall of 2021 and is expected to be finished by this summer, but the project has been in development for more than a decade. The SF Board of Supervisors approved a proposed nursery complex in 2012, with the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society (SFBGS) agreeing to “gift” the complex to San Francisco if sufficient funds were raised to complete the project. 

The design, approved by the Board in 2012, included a public learning center to teach San Francisco residents and students about horticulture and the plant world. In 2021, however, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department approved a simpler redesign submitted by SFBGS which eliminated the planned learning center due to cost considerations.  The new nursery complex will focus on its primary function of growing plants and will not be open to the public.   

The new nursery complex has a smaller footprint than the previous one, but unlike the previous nursery, it will be surrounded by fencing. According to SFBG, this will be less confusing to the public and is necessary for safety and the protection of plants and equipment.

SFBG is taking measures to mitigate disruptions due to the construction of the new nursery and fencing. As an example, the Garden is working with Tim Wong, a senior biologist with the California Academy of Sciences, to relocate the locally rare California Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, which feeds on the pipevine plant growing on trails behind the nursery’s new fence.  

For the past few years, visitors to this area have been able to watch as the Swallowtail’s black and orange spotted caterpillars fed on pipevine plants and emerged from their chrysalises as iridescent blue and black butterflies. Wong, also a Garden volunteer, has been moving the pipevine and remaining chrysalises to the Children’s Garden to ensure that the butterflies continue to thrive. The caterpillars, capable of traveling a quarter of a mile, can also find pipevine growing in the nearby Redwood Grove during the transition. 

Wong is personally responsible for re-introducing the California Pipevine Swallowtails to San Francisco, raising them in his backyard and transferring them to the Botanical Garden and elsewhere. He has been raising butterflies as a hobby since he was in elementary school.   

Japanese Tea Garden

There are also new design plans for the Japanese Tea Garden. By this fall, the plaza surrounding the Tea Garden’s newly restored pagoda should be completely redesigned and landscaped. The project is being led by Hoichi Kurisu, renowned for his construction of Japanese gardens worldwide. 

The new plaza will open up after removal of the old fencing surrounding the Pagoda. It will also be more flexible in its potential uses, allowing for public gatherings and celebrations. 

Adding to its authenticity, the new plaza will incorporate stones donated from the ancient Tatsuyama quarry in Takasago, Japan. There are also plans to restore the wooden long bridge in the Tea Garden, perhaps opening a second entrance that will reduce lines at the front gate.  

As a reminder, San Francisco residents can now enjoy all three gardens – the Botanical Garden, Japanese Tea Garden and Conservatory of Flowers – for free.  Be prepared to show proof of residency, such as a California driver’s license or ID showing your San Francisco address, a recent utility bill, lease, or other official document showing your San Francisco address as well as a photo ID.  Digital proof on your smart phone (i.e., photo of your ID, screenshot of your utility bill) is acceptable.

If you would like to help in the effort to bring the California Pipevine Swallowtail back to San Francisco, plant some pipevine (a.k.a., Dutchman’s Pipe or Aristolochia californica) in your garden.

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