Why The SF Botanical Garden Is Worth Visiting In The Dead Of Winter

Rhododendrons. Birds of paradise. Matilija poppies. They're all big attractions at the San Francisco Botanical Garden, but they’re not in bloom until spring or summer.

Yet this 55-acre urban oasis is open 365 days of the year. Is there anything worth seeing there in the chilly days of January and February?

In a word, yes. “Each season highlights different things,” said Brendan Lange, Director of Visitor Experience and Marketing at the Botanical Garden. “The diversity of the garden is one of the main draws.”

Camellia sinensis. | Image: WikiCommons

For starters, the camellia gardens are in bloom in the Moon Viewing Garden. Camellias are a popular garden shrub that have grown in Southern China, Burma, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan for over a thousand years, and the Botanical Garden is home to a collection of over 200 of these perennials, which can be dried and used to make tea, cooking oil, cosmetics and even paint.

Then there are the more than 100 magnolia trees, whose white blooms are billed on the Botanical Garden's website as its “signature flowers." This year, some of the buds are off to a slow start on their usual winter bloom, but there are still plenty of the "Magnificent Magnolias" to see from now through early March, and visitors can download a map to track them down throughout the garden.

“The aloes in the South Africa and succulent gardens are in bloom, and are really beautiful as well,” Lange said.

Plants aren’t the only creatures breathing life into the garden, and Lange said there is definitely a lot of bird activity within the garden this time of year.

“There are a number of resident hummingbirds in the garden, buzzing around and protecting their turf,” Lange said. “You’re almost guaranteed to see hummingbirds battling for aloes in bloom this time of year.”

Image: WikiCommons

Even on a rainy day, visitors can check out a new exhibit in the garden’s library: "Beautiful Relationships: Flora and Fauna from Around the World."

The indoor exhibit is a collection of color-pencil illustrations by artist Rachel Diaz-Bastin, depicting how plant and animal relationships have evolved and side-by-side. It runs through April.

The garden offers free admission for San Francisco residents with proof of residency (non-residents pay $8, with discounts for seniors and kids). If you've got out-of-town visitors, there's also free admission for all from 7:30-9am each morning, on the second Tuesday of every month, and on select holidays, like Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

With 8,500 plants on display from all over the globe, visitors should have no trouble finding solace between the garden’s hedges, even in the chilly months.

“You can walk from the redwood grove right into the succulent garden,” Lange said. "The idea is that you can walk through the footpaths and get lost while seeing plants from all over the world.”

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