From 1981 until 2011 I lived in Spokane, Washington. Inside the city, there are various types of deciduous and evergreen trees lining the streets. But once you leave the city, you are in the land of pine trees.

When I moved to Southern California, I expected the palm trees and succulents, but was surprised by the general variety of trees and plants. I figured it was the climate difference, moving from an area with snowy winters and a distinct growing season to a more temperate climate. It’s not 70 degrees every day, but it’s close enough for me.

Kate Sessions, 1884. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

It turns out that the wide variety of trees and plants are not all native to the area. We can thank Kate Sessions, fondly known as the Mother of Balboa Park, for that. I’ve previously written about the famous San Diego park in The Military Takes Over Balboa Park and How Do You Feel About Zoos?.

Katherine Olivia “Kate” Sessions (1857-1940) was born in San Francisco and earned a degree in natural science from the University of California in Berkeley. In the early 1880s she moved to San Diego. The region was drier than the Bay Area, which was reflected in the landscaping. Soon after her arrival she partnered with some friends to purchase the San Diego Nursery and set about making some changes.

Sessions entered into an agreement with the City of San Diego in 1892. She would lease 30 acres in City Park (now Balboa Park) to grow plants for her nursery, and in return she agreed that for the next 10 years she would plant 100 trees per year in the barren park and supply an additional 300 trees per year to be planted throughout the city.

She imported seeds from around the world to see if they could grown in San Diego. At one point she spent seven months touring Europe, collecting a variety of plants to bring home.

Over the course of her life, she owned a succession of nurseries, taught horticulture and botany to school children, corresponded with like-minded people around the globe, published articles, and was involved in the foundation of the San Diego Floral Association. And she continued collecting seeds and plants and planting them around the San Diego area.

Statue of Kate Sessions, “Mother of Balboa Park”, installed 1998. Photo by
RightCowLeftCoast via Wikimedia Commons

Her life is inspiring because she got stuff done. She found something that she was passionate about and spent her life doing that. She took action to train and inspire others and to figure out ways to make her part of the world more beautiful.

Think that sounds like a great story for kids? Check out this children’s’ book from 2013, The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever, written by H. Joseph Hopkins and illustrated by Jill McElmurry. There is also a biography from 1976, Kate Sessions: Pioneer Horticulturalist by Elizabeth C. MacPhail. And if you’re really interested in digging into some detail, the San Diego History Center has a ton of stuff.

Let Kate inspire you to use your passion to change your world!