The first adventure the Fellows embarked on in the North American Experience was a jaunt to The San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum (SFBG), one of the West Coast's premiere destinations for botanical beauty. Mr. Scot Medbury, Director of SFBG, hosted the Fellows on a surprisingly gorgeous, warm day considering the Bay City 's famously foggy weather. During the visit, Scot introduced the Fellows to the history, collections and gardens, governance and organizational structure, planning endeavors, and future vision of the SFBG.
Established in 1940, the SFBG is a fifty-five acre jewel in the crown of the 1017 acre Golden Gate Park, San Francisco's counterpart to New York City 's Central Park. Until recently, SFBG was known as Strybing Arboretum, an allusion to Helen Strybing, a San Francisco resident whose bequest to the City resulted in the Garden's creation. A gradual name change has been undertaken over the past few years to the San Francisco Botanical Garden, strengthening its connection to the city and its residents.
SFBG's mission is to "develop, manage, and maintain documented collections of woody and herbaceous plants for the purposes of education, conservation, research, and public enjoyment." The Garden achieves this mission through several major avenues: the "World of Gardens" theme, its status as a living interpreted museum, and by promoting science in the Garden.
The "World of Gardens" theme, SFBG's effort to organize its collections biogeographically, is the major foundation of the Garden. As the average temperature varies by only ten degrees Farenheit between January and June, the City's mild climate encourages the growth of plants from the world over. The collection includes over 7,000 plant varieties from Asia, Australia, California, South Africa, South America, the Mediterranean basin, and high-elevation tropics. These plants are grouped into three different climatic zones including Mild Temperate, Mediterranean, and Tropical Cloud Forest. In addition to the geographically organized collections, SFBG features a variety of theme Gardens, including The Succulent Garden, The Children's Garden, The Redwood Trail, and The Primitive Plant Garden to name a few. The SFBG is organized into alternating open and closed spaces that create Garden vignettes. It benefits from having a staggering number of striking specimen plants, including a more than a hundred year-old "green infrastructure" of Monterey Cypress and pine trees, as well as other rare conifers that anchor many of these Garden spaces.
This vast plant collection is maintained by the SFBG, owned by the City of San Francisco, and operated jointly by the Parks and Recreation Department and the SFBG Society, the Gardens' not-for-profit partner. In this dual governance structure, the City Parks and Recreation Department provides positions for the Director, Curator of Collections, Section Supervisor, Nursery Specialist, and up to eleven Gardeners. As of 2005, five Gardener positions are vacant. Including the positions, the City's portion of the budget accounts for approximately 1.7 million dollars.
The SFBG Society has a staff of twenty-three employees and is responsible for administering the Garden's educational and guest programs, collections management, the bookstore, and library, which features more than twenty-thousand horticultural texts and other rare literary botanical artifacts. In addition to supplying positions for the Garden, the SFBG Society provides some funding to the Garden for operational costs. The Society's annual operating budget hovers around two million dollars. Since this dual governance model has historically proven problematic in terms of resource allocation, the two entities, with Mr. Medbury as a facilitator, recently drafted a Memorandum of Agreement that describes in detail the responsibilities and roles of each of the two partners.
One of Scot's major roles as the Director of SFBG over his six year tenure has been to engage the institution in major planning and visioning efforts to guide the organization into the future. In 2001, he led the Garden in a master plan refinement, which engaged a team of public horticulture professionals to enhance and update a plan created five years prior. The master plan revision consists of three parts: the master plan refinement, an interpretive plan, and a cost opinion explaining the expenditures associated with implementing the proposed projects. The refinement recommends a number of major changes including a plan for circulation through the grounds and a creative plan to revamp the SFBG's existing gardens. This Garden retooling proposal focuses on the creative concept that each garden, although integrally linked by themes and design principles, will be designed an individual landscape architect.
The future of SFBG is to become "A Garden renewed, a place for people, and a place for plants, one of the world's greatest botanical gardens, and a primary destination for visitors to the San Francisco Bay Area." There are many challenges and changes on the horizon for the SFBG in the near future. One of the major challenges facing the SFBG is remaining relevant to the changing demographics of the City. Over forty percent of the households in San Francisco are bilingual, and while the population of both African Americans and Caucasians is rapidly declining, the numbers of Latinos and Asian Americans are on the rise. The first major change is currently underway. As Director Scot Medbury is departing the SFBG to direct the famed Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Garden is currently searching to find the next Director who can guide the San Francisco Botanic Garden into the future.