|Kate Sessions statue, by sculpor Ruth Hayward.|
As the weather turns chilly here in New England, I think back fondly to a late summer vacation in San Diego. While there we toured Balboa Park, a huge park and cultural center in the city. I learned about Kate Sessions (1857-1940), an important woman with whom I was unfamiliar.
The land which became Balboa Park was deliberately protected from development to create an amenity for the city, partly to increase the attractiveness of San Diego real estate but also because some forward-thinking city elders realized the value of open space to the quality of life in a city.
Kate Sessions, a native of California, managed a plant nursery in San Diego and needed more space for her growing business. The City of San Diego leased land in the park to her, and in exchange she consulted on the design of the park and donated plants and labor.
It is important to know that, by the time Ms. Sessions began her work, much native vegetation of the area had already been heavily over-grazed by cattle introduced by ranchers from Mexico, who colonized this area of California before any European settlers. While Ms. Sessions introduced non-native species, such as eucalyptus, to the nursery trade she also popularized native plants, particularly succulents, and introduced them to a broader horticultural audience.