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Our Sponsoring Societies

Articles: Our Sponsoring Societies

As George Waters has explained in previous articles tracing its history, Pacific Horticulture is published by the Pacific Horticultural Foundation. This non-profit foundation was established in 1968, sponsored initially by three horticultural societies in the Bay Area, with groups in Southern California and the Pacific Northwest joining at a later date; Pacific Horticulture is offered as a benefit of membership in each. Here we offer a brief story about each of our five sponsoring organizations that continue to support the foundation and to guide the direction of the magazine.

Two predecessors of Pacific Horticulture, published by the California Horticultural Society between 1940 and 1975
Two predecessors of Pacific Horticulture, published by the California Horticultural Society between 1940 and 1975

California Horticultural Society


In 1932, the vagaries of our usually stable Bay Area weather led to the founding of the California Horticultural Society. That winter, a mass of cold air drove temperatures well below freezing for a number of days in early December; the ground froze several inches deep in shaded areas. Many plants, including established trees were damaged or killed outright.

A number of horticulturally minded people affected by the freeze—nurserymen, estate owners and their gardeners, academics from the University of California at Berkeley, and backyard gardeners—gathered in a North Beach restaurant to assess the damage. After a few meetings, rapport was established and a permanent society emerged as the California Horticultural Society, usually known today as Cal Hort.

In the early days, the monthly meetings featured a lecturer on plants or culture, followed by a show-and-tell of unusual plants, and ending with a plant sale. Before WWII, large estates on the peninsula had full time gardeners and sent large quantities of unusual plants for display and discussion. Both Golden Gate Park and the UC Botanical Garden in Berkeley provided plants as well. Study groups were organized for different kinds of plants; these groups gave lectures on their findings. Occasional field trips were scheduled to private or botanical gardens, as well as to specialty nurseries.

In 1936, Cal Hort began giving awards of merit for plants exhibited at meetings; many of the exhibitors would play a significant role in the history of West Coast horticulture: Sydney B Mitchell of Berkeley, EO Orpet of Santa Barbara, Victor Reiter, Jr of San Francisco, and Toichi Domoto of Hayward. To date, over 6000 plants have received recognition.

As the organization grew in numbers, the downtown dinner meetings of the early years gave way to regular monthly meetings at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, where Cal Hort continues to meet on the third Monday of each month.

In 1940, the society began publishing the quarterly Journal of the California Horticultural Society,, edited by Sydney Mitchell; he was followed in that role by Cora Brandt and Donald Pratt. The journal’s name was changed to California Horticultural Journal in 1963, with Owen Pearce as editor; Owen continued as editor and provided many photographs for the cover and for articles until the launching of Pacific Horticulture in 1976.

Victor Reiter, Jr guided the society from its founding until his death. He held many official positions including president, and was a founder in 1968 of the Pacific Horticultural Foundation. Eric Walther, first director of Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, played a leading role in the founding of Cal Hort and was an ardent supporter of the journal and contributor to the meetings. Elizabeth McClintock played a large part in the society, acting as botanical editor for the journals and contributing numerous articles over the years.

Other individuals who have been closely associated with Cal Hort include: James West of the UC Botanical Gardens, and his close friend, photographer Imogen Cunningham; San Francisco landscape architect Ernest Wertheim; nurseryman Ed Carman of Los Gatos; nurserymen and hybridizers Frank Reinelt and William Schmidt; and Margedant Hayakawa, editor of Fremontia and a founder of Pacific Horticultural Foundation.

In the late 1980s, the membership decided to take a more active role in improving horticulture in the Bay Area by establishing an annual program of scholarships and grants for research, publications, and public garden development.


The California Horticultural Society meets at 7:30 pm on the third Monday of every month (except May and December) in the auditorium of the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. The lecture is followed by a plant discussion and a plant drawing.

For information on upcoming programs or about membership in the California Horticultural Society, contact the secretary, Elsie Mueller, at 1937 – 34th Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94122, phone 415/566-5222 or visit the society’s website at calhortsociety.org.


Written descriptions of the plants brought in for exhibition and discussion at each meeting have appeared regularly in the monthly newsletter of the society. The thousands of plant descriptions have now been gathered, organized, and placed on a CD by member Richard Wagner; this exceptional record of plants grown in the Bay Area is available from the society’s membership office. With the advent of digital photography, newsletter editor Bruce Peters now places images and descriptions of plants shown at each meeting on the Cal Hort website.

The best way to see the life and growth of our organization is to browse through the two magazines that have followed its course. The Library at Strybing Arboretum has complete sets of both series and any number of pleasant hours can be spent looking through the articles contributed over the years.

A docent tour of the Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, led by a volunteer from the Strybing Arboretum Society. Photograph by RGT
A docent tour of the Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, led by a volunteer from the Strybing Arboretum Society. Photograph by RGT

Strybing Arboretum Society


Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, a fifty-five-acre living museum in verdant Golden Gate Park, was officially established in 1940 with a bequest to the city of San Francisco from the estate of Helene Strybing. As the non-profit partner of the city-owned and maintained gardens, the Strybing Arboretum Society has provided support for the gardens for more than forty-five years and enjoyed a twenty-five year working partnership with Pacific Horticulture. We all have much to be proud of.

San Francisco’s unique botanical garden inspires visitors with an extraordinary diversity of rare and unusual plants that can be grown in coastal California. Through its programs and displays, the garden celebrates the bond between people and plants, and instills a deeper understanding of the necessity to conserve the Earth’s biological diversity.

Strybing’s gardens are home to more than 7,000 kinds of plants that hail from three distinct climate zones: mediterranean, mild temperate, and tropical montane. These plants thrive here because of the striking similarities between coastal California’s climate and their native climates. No other garden, public or private, can match the number and diversity of cloud forest plants grown outdoors at Strybing. The vital link of interpreting the collections and educating our visitors, members, and friends is made by the Strybing Arboretum Society.

The Strybing Arboretum Society’s mission is to foster a community that actively supports the gardens through fund raising and advocacy, and to provide outstanding botanical, horticultural, and environmental education opportunities for people of all ages. How does the Society provide these opportunities to the public? One important element is The Helen Crocker Russell Library—Northern California’s largest horticultural library. The collection of nearly 30,000 volumes ranges from new gardening titles to antique herbals. The library also features 1,100 volumes in a children’s botanical library, Sunday children’s storytelling programs, 500 plant and garden magazines, video and slide collections, and botanical art exhibitions. It is a haven for both the academic researcher and the home gardener.

The education department offers more than one hundred horticulture and botany classes and workshops each year, as well as certificate programs, docent training, field trips to private gardens in the Bay Area, and international botanical tours. A successful symposium, Gardening Under Mediterranean Skies, was presented as a joint venture with Pacific Horticulture in 1998 and 2000; plans are underway for a another in 2002.

The gardens also serve as an excellent outdoor classroom for young people from all over the Bay Area. Each year, thousands of school children participate in quality docent-led theme walks, exploring the gardens in small groups. The Children’s Garden provides year round opportunities for school classes, scouting groups, and others to volunteer in planting, maintaining, and harvesting the vegetable, herb, and butterfly gardens. “From Acorn to Oak,” a summer program based in the Children’s Garden, provides another hands-on experience for groups of young urban children.

The society has recently been awarded a grant that provides for training of twenty young adults from the Potrero and Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhoods on the basics of gardening and landscape maintenance. While some of the training will take place in the gardens, the bulk will be carried out on the job in the neighborhoods, organized by a society staff member. The goal is to provide trainees with the credentials to find work with the city or with private contractors, with the added benefit of visible environmental improvements within their neighborhoods.

The Strybing Bookstore, managed by the society and staffed by volunteers, offers more than 1,000 gardening and horticulture titles—the best selection in San Francisco—as well as a selection of field guides, children’s books, cards, and gifts.

The nursery facility does yeoman service for the gardens and the community. It serves both the city and the society, propagating rare and choice plants for the gardens. Nursery volunteers—an exceptionally knowledgeable group—have introduced many new plant selections, such as mite-resistant fuchsia hybrids and cloud forest shrubs, to Bay Area gardeners. Plant sales, held each month, are the perfect venue to talk about plants and add to one’s collection. The Annual Plant Sale, held the first weekend of May, is Northern California’s largest plant sale, and features a members’ preview, silent auction, and garden marketplace.

What is the engine that fuels all this activity? More than 700 volunteers contribute over 200,000 hours annually to the nursery, library, bookstore, education programs, and the gardens. The popular classes, day trips, travel opportunities, publications, and events would not happen without the dedication of these volunteers.


Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Gardens are located at Ninth Avenue and Lincoln Way, on the southern edge of Golden Gate Park. For information about programs, membership, or volunteer opportunities in the Strybing Arboretum Society, call 415/661-1316, x325. Be sure to check out our website at www.strybing.org.


Unlike many of our sister institutions in San Francisco, Strybing is free of admission charges. It is through the support of over $1.8 million annually from the city that the gardens continue to flourish. The society provides an additional $3 million in support from members and a wide range of individual, foundation, and corporate donors. With over 200,000 people visiting the gardens each year, plans for our future are critical. The 1995 master plan, with refinements adopted in 2001, provides concepts for strengthening the gardens’ circulation system and the interpretive value of the plant collections. New gardens, ranging from the renovated demonstration gardens to new geographic displays representing Western Australia, the Mediterranean Basin, and the cloud forests of Southeast Asia, are major features of the plan, and will form the focus of joint fundraising projects over the next several years.

Our overarching goal is to fulfill our potential as one of the finest public botanical gardens in the world. San Francisco and the Bay Area deserve that. Our strong partnership with the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, our many friends and supporters, and our colleagues in the horticultural community all provide a valuable framework for us to work toward realizing our vision.

Western Horticultural Society members enjoying the annual picnic at the home of member Faith Duhring. Photograph by Carol Moholt
Western Horticultural Society members enjoying the annual picnic at the home of member Faith Duhring. Photograph by Carol Moholt

Western Horticultural Society


Firmly ensconced in the area south of San Francisco and spilling into the great Santa Clara Valley and beyond, Western Horticultural Society has been a coalescing force for area gardeners since 1963. This geographic area encompasses a number of unique growing situations, influenced to varying degrees by the Pacific Ocean, and characterized as the mediterranean climate of Central California.

Many members live in the Santa Clara Valley, more famous now for internet start-ups than prunes and apricots. Or they may make their homes in suburban back yards along “the Peninsula,” where numerous small towns stretch in a nearly continuous band from just south of San Francisco to Palo Alto.

This area, known as the Valley of the Heart’s Delight, was already making a rapid change from farming to suburban living when a group of mostly nurserymen got together to form the society. Today, just as then, the emphasis is on sharing horticultural knowledge and an unabashed love of plants.

William Schmidt, a well-known local nurseryman, convened the first meeting in 1963, backed by a board of fifteen. Gardeners traveled throughout the area to buy pelargoniums and fuchsias from Schmidt’s nursery. People recall how the employees always arrived at work well before opening to make sure that every plant was pristine before the public walked through the doors.

Other founding members included Ed Carman, of Carman’s nursery in Los Gatos, known throughout California for his many plant introductions and for the education and mentorship he’s provided to thousands of younger horticulturists. Dick Dunmire was also a founding member and at that time, already setting the standard for excellence at Sunset, editing their magazine and books. With the publication of the 2001 edition of the “Sunset Western Garden Book,” he retired from Sunset but has graciously accepted a role on the board of directors of the Pacific Horticultural Foundation.

Most in this initial group of fifteen were retail nursery owners, or wholesalers supplying the retail trade. Ken Hartman’s experience at Leonard Coates, a wholesale nursery, was typical: before WWII, he supplied most of the fruit stock for the huge agricultural industry in the valley; after the war, the orchards gave way to subdivisions, and his business changed from supplying fruit trees for orchardists to making sure that the many new retail nurseries springing into existence had enough shrubs and plants for the thousands of new backyards. People moving here from the rest of the country soon realized they could “grow just about anything,” and, to keep up with the demand, there was a nursery in almost every neighborhood.

While the nurseries—sadly—are fewer and farther between, the number of backyards keeps increasing, and the number of plant lovers does, too. Today’s Western Hort membership still includes nursery owners and growers but also a large number of amateurs who enjoy gardening in the magnificent climate of the area. Come to any meeting and you’ll hear announcements about specialty sales and tours—roses, succulents, iris, rhododendrons, natives, vegetables, master gardeners, lilies, orchids, grasses—there’s no limit to the interests of the membership.

Area residents are becoming more knowledgeable, too, and want water-wise gardens that employ plants appropriate to the climate. This region includes many residents who want something special for the small yards that are now so typical. Some of the more affluent residents (the area includes some of the wealthiest communities in all of California) have money and acreage to commission grand and glorious landscapes. You’ll find that Western Hort members encompass a large number of designers, architects, and contractors. “Western Hort is a great place to network,” says designer Patricia St John. “I encourage horticultural students at the local colleges to join; it’s a great way to make friends and become known in the industry.”

Whether a newcomer to gardening and looking for something beyond the initial “how-to” books, or new to the area and wondering how to garden in this climate of long, dry summers and mild, wet winters, Western Hort offers exciting possibilities. “I moved here after gardening my whole life on the East Coast” notes new member Anne Cunningham “and was delighted with both the information I found and the warm welcome I received from the members.”


Western Horticultural Society meets monthly from September through June. Most meetings are held the second Wednesday of the month, at 7:30 pm, at Loyola School, 777 Berry Avenue, Los Altos (picnics and mid-winter holiday parties are held in differing locations).

Membership is open to all. For more information, contact Leslie Dean at 650/967-5408.


Close to one hundred members and friends gather once a month from September through June to learn from one another and hear a guest speaker. After a brief intermission a plant discussion takes place with members bringing in old favorites and new discoveries. The highlight of the evening for many is the concluding plant auction where plants from member’s gardens and leading nurseries throughout the area are raffled. Current president, landscape architect Leslie Dean, says “Through our series of talks, tours, and scholarships, we hope to provide everyone—from students and avid gardeners to professionals—an opportunity to expand our gardening world.”

Board member Lorena Gorsche is a retailer at one of the area’s few remaining independent nurseries. While times have changed, the same spirit still infuses the group as it did when those first fifteen got together and founded Western Horticultural Society. “What I like best about the group is the powerful energy of the people who love to garden and have the same passion I do for plants….It’s wonderful when members bring in great plants to share.”

If you’ve not attended, please come visit us as our guest!

Two recent publications of the Southern California Horticultural Society
Two recent publications of the Southern California Horticultural Society

Southern California Horticultural Society


Founded in 1937 as a professional organization, the Southern California Horticultural Institute quickly opened its membership to enthusiastic amateur gardeners. They all sought information about gardening in the Los Angeles area and were anxious to try suitable new plant introductions. The institute, in seeking to help beautify Los Angeles, moved early in its history to create a place where plant introductions could be evaluated and introduced into commerce. The war years did not seem to impede this dream, and in 1947, the Los Angeles State and County Arboretum was founded in Arcadia on land owned by the Baldwin Ranch, which only a few years previously had been slated for subdivision and development. Mainly through the efforts of Dr Samuel Ayres and his committee from the institute, a comprehensive plan for an arboretum was drafted and presented to the County of Los Angeles. Howard Miller, in his presentation to the Board of Supervisors, opined that this arboretum “could become the Kew Gardens of the West.” The institute continued to be actively involved with the arboretum until 1963, jointly publishing the quarterly journal LASCA Leaves with the California Arboretum Foundation, Inc. The president of the institute held an honorary chair on the board of trustees of the foundation until 1963.

The great influx of people to the Los Angeles area after WWII inspired the institute to sponsor an International Flower Show in 1949. This show ran annually for many years and was the main horticultural and floral event of the spring season.

In 1965, work on a project began that would later become a regular part of the institute’s mission. Victoria Padilla began researching the history of gardening and horticulture in the southern part of the state. Her research led to Southern California Gardens, which was originally published in 1966 by the University of California Press. Thus began a tradition of supporting gardening publications focused on southern California.

In 1972, an invitation to join the newly founded Pacific Horticultural Foundation was warmly received. Members of the institute began contributing to and receiving the new California Horticultural Journal, the immediate predecessor of Pacific Horticulture, which members now receive.

In the beginning the monthly meetings moved from one location to another but soon settled at the Fiesta Hall in Plummer Park, remaining there until 1980 when they moved to the present location at Friendship Auditorium, near Griffith Park. In 1991, the name was changed to Southern California Horticultural Society to better reflect the nature of the organization.

The society holds monthly meetings with a speaker of interest presenting a program on garden design, horticulture, plant science, or a related topic. There is an active plant forum, where members bring in plants or specimens for discussion; notes from the discussion are included in the newsletter, known as the Greensheet. The plant raffle is also popular, and books, plants, and other related items are sold at the monthly meetings as well. There are occasional outside activities planned, including garden tours and nursery trips.

At a special celebration each September, the society honors the Horticulturist of the Year, a highly regarded life achievement award that acknowledges the best in the world of horticulture in Southern California.

Early in the organization’s history it was decided to support students in the fields of botany, plant science, and landscape architecture. Originally scholarships were awarded, but currently the society funds summer internships at arboreta and botanic gardens in Los Angeles County. Usually two or three are funded a year. This allows students to explore the possibility of working in a public garden after graduation and helps our local gardens accomplish projects that they may not have the regular staffing to do.

The society is also one of the largest award contributors to the Los Angeles Science Fair, sponsored by the LA Unified School District and held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Savings bonds are awarded to students doing projects related to plant science at both the middle and high school levels. One or two society members attend the Fair and present the awards.


Meetings of the Southern California Horticultural Society begin with social time at 7:30 pm and end promptly after the plant raffle at 10 pm. They are held at Friendship Auditorium, 3201 Riverside Drive, Los Angeles on the second Thursday of every month. Call 818/567-1496 for membership information. Check our website (www.socahort.org) for upcoming program information, as well as a map to Friendship Auditorium.


Currently, three society publications are sold at meetings, through public garden gift shops, at some nurseries, and from our website. Many years ago, a small list was printed on the orchids that would do well outdoors in the Los Angeles area. Outdoor Growing Orchids for the Greater Los Angeles Area has been recently revised and is now available in booklet form. Reference Lists of Ornamental Plants for Southern California Gardens, written by nurseryman and designer Philip Chandler, was reprinted in 1998 and is still a popular textbook for classes in planting design throughout Southern California. Our latest publication, Selected Plants for Southern California Gardens, grew out of our members’ contributions to the plant forum at the monthly meetings. Member Joan Citron researched the plants brought in and wrote expanded descriptions, distributing them to several gardeners in various parts of the Los Angeles basin for comments on their personal experiences in growing these plants in widely differing conditions. Just published in 2000, it is rapidly becoming a standard reference book for gardeners in Southern California. Gardeners in other mediterranean climates find it useful as well.

The Southern California Horticultural Society remains committed to supporting education in the fields of plant science, horticulture, and garden design. It serves as an excellent way for gardeners of all levels to learn more and share their enthusiasm with others. Our monthly meetings are free and open to anyone. We look forward to seeing Pacific Horticulture readers in the area at our next meeting.

The late Elisabeth C Miller, founder of the Northwest Horticultural Society. Photograph by Don Normark
The late Elisabeth C Miller, founder of the Northwest Horticultural Society. Photograph by Don Normark

Northwest Horticultural Society


Born out of controversy, nurtured by shared visions and ample ambition, and matured through the grace of time and unswerving efforts of dedicated gardeners, Northwest Horticultural Society has become a horticultural tour-de-force in the Seattle region—an area long-recognized for its gardening potential.

In 1965, at a time when the University of Washington Arboretum was experiencing some significant financial difficulties, Elisabeth “Betty” Miller and fifteen of her influential gardening friends met to find ways of helping the arboretum get through its fiscal struggles. All were members of the Arboretum Foundation—a non-profit supporting organization that appeared at that time more dedicated to building its own facilities than to helping the arboretum sustain its. After much discussion and brainstorming, this “Gang of Sixteen” decided to take matters into their own hands and establish a new horticultural organization to serve Seattle and the other communities in the Puget Sound area. Betty agreed to serve as its first president.

In view of their primary objective, it should not be surprising to learn that they decided to call their new organization the Friends of the Arboretum. For several years, using plant sales, garden tours, and other volunteer-driven fundraising tools, they contributed significant quantities of money directly to the Arboretum coffers.

As the organization grew in numbers and in operational experience, the vision of its future role and influence on public horticulture in the Pacific Northwest blossomed. To play a broader regional role, the group decided in 1973 to re-organize and to re-incorporate under a new name, the Northwest Ornamental Horticultural Society (NOHS). Their focus was to facilitate the creation of a new Center for Urban Horticulture at the University of Washington. The University had decided, not in small part due to the lobbying efforts of the “Gang of Sixteen”, to convert some out-dated graduate student housing property into a new research arboretum facility. To show their sincerity, the group put up a surprising $55,000 towards the drafting of a conceptual master plan for this new “Union Bay Arboretum.” This new on-campus complex was envisioned to better serve graduate students and faculty, specifically in the newly emerging science called “urban horticulture,” leaving the older arboretum property and its mature plant collection resources to serve the needs of the general gardening public.

Under its new banner, NOHS, the organization began publishing Ornamentals Northwest—a large format, multi-page newsletter/journal using the volunteer editorial services of Sallie D Allen, one of the “Gang of Sixteen” and the second president of NOHS. Harnessing the enthusiasm and talents of its board and most dedicated members, NOHS assembled extensive educational exhibits extolling the virtues of the Northwest climate for the cultivation of a wide variety of ornamental plants, but particularly members of the heath family (Ericaceae). The reputation of NOHS, for providing quality services and programs, spread wide and fast. Honors and commendations were received from many parts of the country and from many nationally respected horticulturists and organizations.

Never willing to rest on its laurels or to consider anything sacred, the board of NOHS took a third look at its own name. Some felt the word “ornamental” was restrictive and perhaps misleading; others felt it was merely redundant. The decision was made in the mid-1970s to drop the word from the banner, and Northwest Horticultural Society came into its own.

About this time, George Waters, at the editorial helm of the Pacific Horticultural Foundation, began mailing the first issues of Pacific Horticulture magazine. Betty Miller contacted him to report how much she enjoyed this new publication. Soon discussions were held on how NHS could become a sponsoring organization of the Pacific Horticultural Foundation.

The cost to produce the botanically technical Ornamentals Northwest, given its limited distribution, may have been a major factor driving NHS to opt to terminate their publication and to adopt Pacific Horticulture as the publication benefit for its members.

The Center For Urban Horticulture became more than just a concept with the adoption of a plan to engage its first director in late 1979. Having harnessed considerable campus and community support for the new center, it was disappointing to learn that State of Washington funding for the project would not be forthcoming. Undaunted by this news, the board of NHS joined with the supporting boards of the Arboretum Foundation and the Bloedel Reserve (a former private residential estate gifted to the University of Washington in 1970, but located outside Seattle) in a commitment to provide the funding for the center’s director, at least for the first five years. Dr Harold J Tukey, Jr, at the time professor of horticulture at Cornell University, became the center’s first director in the spring of 1980.

Under Dr Tukey’s masterful leadership and with the help of many horticultural organizations (Seattle Garden Club, Tacoma Garden Club, the Arboretum Foundation and especially NHS) and substantial financial gifts from individuals, families, and businesses, the Center for Urban Horticulture became a reality and was dedicated in 1984.


For information about membership in the Northwest Horticultural Society, about volunteer opportunities, and about our extensive education program, write to Northwest Horticultural Society, University of Washington, Box 354115, Seattle WA 98195-4115, or call 206/527-1794.


In more recent years, with the Center of Urban Horticulture a reality, NHS has focused its energy and resources on supporting the Elisabeth C. Miller Horticultural Library at the center, and on providing grants and scholarships, lectures, tours, workshops, exhibits, and plant sales. In a community now widely recognized for its horticultural facilities, private and public gardens, and specialty nurseries, NHS continues to be an educational centerpiece for the gardeners of the “Emerald City.”




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