GUEST BLOG By Debbie Petruzzelli, BalboaPark.org--Three centerpiece gardens—the award-winning Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden, the historic Botanical Building, and the tranquil Japanese Friendship Garden—are counted among Balboa Park’s most cherished assets, helping the largest urban cultural park in the nation rank among the “Coolest” City Parks in the United States (Travel + Leisure Magazine, April 2011). Continually evolving, these horticultural landmarks provide colorful, fragrant, and serene natural environments for the more than twelve million visitors that flock to Balboa Park each year.
Featuring highly distinct landscape features and a gorgeous floral diversity, these meticulously maintained gardens were originally built almost a century ago for the 1915–1916 Panama-California Exposition. The historic event (the first of two major Expositions in the Park) commemorated the opening of the Panama Canal and provided a major impetus for the creation of the Park as it appears today. The extensive landscaping the Exposition brought to the Park has earned it the moniker, the “Garden Fair.”
The lushly landscaped Park is currently home to beautiful gardens, 15 major museums, several performing arts venues, a wide variety of other cultural and recreational attractions, and of course, the World Famous San Diego Zoo. Balboa Park is managed and maintained by the City of San Diego Park and Recreation Department.
The Balboa Park Botanical Building
The view of the Botanical Building with the Lily Pond in the foreground is one of the most photographed scenes in Balboa Park and a “must-see” destination in San Diego. Built for the 1915–16 Exposition, along with the adjacent Lily Pond, the historic building is one of the largest lath structures in the world. Designed by Carleton M. Winslow, the Botanical Building is 250-feet long, 75-feet wide, and over 60-feet tall and filled with an ever-changing landscape of beautiful and interesting plants. It is open free to the public Friday through Wednesday, from 10 am to 4 pm (closed Thursdays and City of San Diego observed holidays).
Currently, the Botanical Building plantings include over 2,100 permanent plants, featuring fascinating collections of cycads, ferns, orchids, bromeliads, ficus, other tropical plants, and palms (including lady palms, which are from the original collection planted in 1915). The Botanical Building also hosts some of the Park’s vibrant seasonal flower displays, such as the lovely Easter lily display in the spring and the colorful poinsettia display for the winter holidays.
Closed and neglected during World Wars I and II, the Botanical Building was reopened in 1957 after an extensive renovation, including seventy thousand linear feet of redwood lath (more than 12 miles). In 1994, the building again underwent a structural renovation, which included replacement and reinforcement of the steel arch framework. As a result, the interior plantings were redesigned and replanted when the building opened to the public. The Botanical Building and its plantings are maintained by the City of San Diego Park and Recreation Department.
Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden
One of the most frequently visited gardens and a popular location for wedding ceremonies in the Park, the stunning Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden displays approximately 2,500 roses of nearly 200 varieties on a three-acre site full of fragrance, color, and beauty. Today’s garden, a designated All America Rose Selection (AARS) Display Garden, is in bloom from March through December, with the roses usually at their peak in April and May. It is open 365 days a year and free to the public. Located across from the San Diego Natural History Museum, it is accessible by the Park Boulevard pedestrian bridge where visitors can pause and view the rose garden’s beauty spread out below them.
The current garden represents the ninth rose garden planned and built in the Park. The first rose garden in Balboa Park was built in conjunction with the major development of the Park for the 1915–16 Panama California Exposition. It was planted in an area on Balboa Drive and Laurel Street where the Lawn Bowling greens are now located.
The World Federation of Rose Societies (WFRS) voted the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden as one of the top 12 rose gardens in the world. The Award of Garden Excellence recognizes exceptional rose gardens throughout the world. Since 1994, the WFRS, a federation of national rose societies from 36 countries, representing more than 100,000 rose lovers, has recognized only 16 gardens with this award of merit.
In addition to the WFRS award, the rose garden was recognized with a national award for outstanding maintenance by the AARS. The nationwide evaluators found the garden to be “in excellent condition and a real tribute to the Queen of Flowers.” Today’s Balboa Park rose garden has earned the award on 20 occasions in its 28-year history. The garden is maintained by the City of San Diego Park and Recreation Department with volunteer support from the San Diego Rose Society.
Japanese Friendship Garden
The Japanese Friendship Garden offers a special place for contemplation to visitors to Balboa Park. The current site is northeast of the Spreckels Organ Pavilion and includes over 11 acres. Along the garden’s winding paths are an exhibit house, fujidana (wisteria arbor), a traditional sand and stone garden, a bonsai exhibit, a Tea Pavilion, and a koi pond. The garden is open Monday through Friday, from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., and Saturday through Sunday, from 10 am to 4 pm.
Today, the Japanese Friendship Garden’s tree and shrub plantings include Japanese black pine, azaleas, a sunburst locust tree inside the entry gate, many types of bamboo, Japanese maple, saucer magnolia, leaf plum and camphor. The koi pond is part of a typical san-sui (mountain and water) style garden with the waterfall reflecting the mountain, river, and ocean scapes of the San Diego area and the turtle-shaped island in the pond symbolizing longevity.
In addition to viewing the gardens, weekend classes are offered in sushi making, bonsai, calligraphy, and conversational Japanese. The Japanese Friendship Garden Study Center provides an educational program of landscape gardening that enables the public to learn the principles, skills, and techniques for implementing the Japanese garden experience in the United States. Seminars, for both the amateur and professional gardener, are held with faculty that includes internationally prominent masters from Japan and the United States. Students, from throughout North America, learn at hands-on workshops, lectures, demonstrations, and discussions.
The history of the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park dates back to the 1915–16 Exposition. The garden was relocated to its present site when the original garden was dismantled in the 1950s to accommodate the San Diego Children’s Zoo. With the development of San Diego’s Sister City relationship with Yokohama in 1950, forty years of gift exchanges followed, kindling feelings of shared ideals represented by the Japanese Friendship Garden. The garden is operated by the non-profit Japanese Friendship Garden Society of San Diego.
Balboa Park is a San Diego must-see, just minutes from downtown, and ranked as one of the Best Parks in the World. The Park is home to 15 major museums, several performing arts venues, lovely gardens and many other cultural and recreational attractions, including the San Diego Zoo. With a variety of cultural institutions laid out among its beautiful 1,200 lushly planted acres, Balboa Park is the nation’s largest urban cultural park.
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