San Diego Floral Association

Major founders of the Association include world-famous horticulturists and botanists:

  • Kate Sessions
  • A. D. Robinson

Kate Sessions was a world-famous horticulturist who became known as the "Mother of Balboa Park".

A.D. Robinson was noted for growing begonias in his large public garden in Point Loma (Rosecroft Gardens). He originated the use of lath houses for growing begonias and other tropical plants and was the inspiration for the construction of the large lath botanical building in Balboa Park.

Katherine Olivia Sessions

Katherine Olivia Sessions

Katherine Olivia Sessions was born on November 8, 1857, in San Francisco, California. She had a life-long interest in plants, starting her first dried-plant collection in grammar school. She attended the University of California in Berkeley graduating in 1881 with a degree in science.

Sessions came to San Diego In 1883 to teach at Russ School. In 1885 she entered into a nursery and florist business, at first with partners, then on her own. Her growing grounds were in Coronado and she operated a florist shop in downtown San Diego.

In 1892 she moved her nursery to 32 leased acres at the northwest corner of City Park (Balboa Park). She paid a yearly rent to the City of San Diego in the form of 400 trees: 100 planted in the park and 300 boxed and ready for planting for the streets, schools, and parks throughout the city. Sessions remained at this nursery site for ten years and planted many more than the contracted number of trees. These plantings and her years of advocacy for the park earned her the unofficial title “Mother of Balboa Park.”

When formal development of Balboa Park began, Kate Sessions moved her nursery business to Mission Hills. As that area was developed with new housing, she relocated to Pacific Beach where she remained in business until her death. Over the years, Sessions developed an international network of horticulturists. She corresponded and exchanged seeds and plants with recognized plant people and botanic gardens throughout the world. She tested seeds and plants for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Beginning in 1909, Kate Sessions promoted the creation of an agave, aloe, and cactus civic garden. San Diego’s climate was ideally suited for the outdoor growing of these plants, and she felt it would bring worldwide acclaim to the city. In 1932, her dream was realized, and the Aloe and Agave Garden was built on the west side of Park Boulevard in the area near the current Desert Garden in Balboa Park. This area was dedicated to Kate Sessions in 1935. Also in 1935, a very large cacti, aloe, and agave garden, designed by Kate Sessions, was planted in Balboa Park with thousands of plants donated by botanic gardens, universities, and private citizens. A bit of this garden remains today behind the Balboa Park Club.

Kate Sessions was widely celebrated in San Diego throughout her life and was honored with “Kate Sessions Day” at the 1935 Exposition in Balboa Park. She was awarded the prestigious Frank N. Meyer Memorial Medal by the American Genetic Association in 1939 for her outstanding contributions to plant introduction. She was a founder and life-long active participant in the San Diego Floral Association. She wrote hundreds of informative articles for the Association’s magazine, California Garden, for local newspapers and for other publications.

Kate Sessions greatly influenced the ambience and beauty of modern-day San Diego and Southern California by introducing and popularized many of the plants common in the landscape. She is recognized as a leading gardener of the Arts and Crafts style in California, particularly because of her use of native plants and early sensitivity to plant ecology.
She was a remarkable woman who selflessly served her community and expanded horticultural knowledge. She died March 29, 1940, and is remembered in San Diego with a Pacific Beach park named in her honor, by Kate Sessions Elementary School, and with a bronze statue installed on the west side of Balboa Park in 1998.

Alfred D. Robinson

Alfred D. Robinson

Alfred D. Robinson was born in England on October 9, 1866. Having met and married a young heiress, Robinson and his wife heard a presentation in San Francisco by Katherine Tingley, who was soliciting money and participants for her utopian theosophical compound, Lomaland, in coastal San Diego. They immediately moved to Point Loma and, in 1903, purchased 10 acres adjacent to Lomaland and enrolled their first child in Tingley's school at Lomaland.

In 1912, The Robinson's built at 6,000 sq. ft. mansion in the Italian Renaissance style on the 10-acre property. They named their property "Rosecroft", and in the gardens at Rosecroft, Robinson began his horticultural career - at first mainly as a hobby.

The beautiful gardens (where many of the early San Diego Floral Association events were held) first contained roses and dahlias, but Robinson soon began to experiment with begonias. He hand-hybridized and grew beautiful, properly documented plants. It was in the gardens at Rosecroft that Robinson sought diligently for the best microclimate for his precious begonias. He was distrustful of Colorado River water, so he built his own water tower to collect rainwater, and he imported leaf mold from the mountains near Julian.

Here, too, he developed the use of the lath house, widely described and promoted by Kate Sessions. It was constructed with narrow strips of redwood oriented to run north and south. With this construction, he noted, "the sun shines through the laths making a gridiron as it moves on its path [from East to West]. The stripes of shadow and sunlight change places every five minutes, providing ... filtered sunlight and temperate weather with a fair degree of moisture." Begonias dislike heat almost more than cold, but Point Loma's coastal climate combined with a lath structure was just perfect.

Rosecroft itself became synonymous with begonias, termed by many as the "finest in the world". Even after Robinson's death in 1942, the gardens at Rosecroft (under a different owner) remained a tourist attraction open to the public until sale of the property in the 1970's.

The San Diego Chamber of Commerce asked Robinson to consult on the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. In Sunset magazine in 1912, Robinson published an article entitled "the Palace of Lath", proposing construction of a giant lath house for the Exposition.

All over California, people were enthralled with the idea of a lath house for San Diego. Exposition officials became convinced and inspired by "Robinson's Dream". Architects Carleton Winslow and Bertram Goodhue prepared plans for the building even before funds were secured.

Natural redwood lath was the primary material. An open barrel design with a domed center element over structural steel was chosen. This was in order to be compatible with the Spanish stucco architecture of the rest of the Prado. At the time of its construction, it was heralded as the largest open-lath botanical building of its type in the world. Robinson's lath house became the center of the large botany complex that also included a glasshouse, Japanese gardens, and reflecting pools.

The San Diego Floral Association was actively involved with Exposition's horticultural activities; these were so popular that the Exposition became known as "the Garden Fair".

In April of 2005, the San Diego Floral Association dedicated a bronze plaque in honor of its first president and founder, A.D. Robinson. The plaque hangs in the entry to the Botanical Building in Balboa Park.

Mission: To promote the knowledge and appreciation of horticulture and floriculture in the San Diego region.