Modern communications technology is truly wonderful. Last week I went on a garden tour of the Golden Gate Park without leaving my home, courtesy of my high school friend Leandro, who lives in San Francisco. His family lives near the park, and he gave me a call so that I could see on my telephone screen the rhododendrons and magnolias now blooming in all their glory. I have never seen so many of these shrubs and trees blooming so profusely in my life; growing naturally in the park and not as potted plants, they were a sight to behold.
COLOURFUL ATTRACTION: ‘Magnolia campbellii’ at the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Long lines of curious visitors went to see the magnificent flowers in 1940 when the first tree planted there bloomed for the first time.
Leandro introduced me to John Hays McLaren, whose statue stands guard at the entrance of the island known simply as the Rhododendron Dell. McLaren was superintendent of the Golden Gate Park for 53 years, from 1890 to his death in 1943, and this section of the park was planted with his favourite flower as a memorial to him. It was not an easy task; many of the initial 850 varieties planted when the John McLaren Memorial Rhododendron Dell was created in the 1950s died. Rhododendrons originated from the lush forests of the Himalayas, and the Golden Gate Park gardeners learned the hard way that direct sun burns the plants to death. They duly planted fast-growing trees to provide shade, but the garden suffered another blow in 1995 when a severe windstorm uprooted many of the mature shade trees, exposing the rhododendrons to the sun’s rays — many succumbed to the heat. Following renovations, the Rhododendron Dell was reopened in 2010 and now every year in February and March, white, pink and deep red flowers dominate the landscape.
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