Jane was the first female landscape architect to practice in San Diego, and in 1947 was hired to head a huge project landscaping the city’s public schools, a job she excelled at for 30 years. She was among the first to use water-thrifty Australian and South African plants in public landscapes, and helped start the San Diego chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.
We asked Jane to share some of her background with us, and he graciously has written the following brief autobiography.
I appreciate how fortunate I have been throughout my life, including the good fortune to have been born in San Diego. My childhood home was in Mission Hills, in a neighborhood with canyons on two sides and rural Mission Valley a few blocks to the north. Wild lands were virtually at my doorstep, beckoning me to explore after school. When I was small, children had complete freedom to roam without the safety concerns of today restricting their movements. It was a very different world.
My two older brothers, my sister and I shared a lifelong love of nature, perhaps installed at an early age by our parents. We were a picnicking family. Every weekend, weather permitting, going either to an unspoiled beach or the foothills, and later as far out as Green Valley Falls, Cuyamaca. We used to dig for clams at Mission Beach. If one found a clam today, imaging daring to eat it!
The slopes of Mission Valley and our canyons had many wildflowers in the 1920s and 1930s, most of whose common names I knew. The flowers that I loved above Mission Valley gave way long ago to wild oats, brome and mustard. Wildflowers on wild lands are still more precious to me than are cultivated plants in gardens.
For my ninth birthday a neighbor gave me nine small snapdragon plants, hoping to interest me in gardening. She succeeded beyond her wildest dreams! Those plants became so remarkably robust and beautiful that an immediate passion for plants was born.
I well remember a conversation I had with my mother when I was twelve, about what my career path might be. I said I’d like to be a botanist, but I didn’t want to be confined to a classroom teaching botany. Back then there weren’t many horticultural opportunities for women. My mother asked me if I’d considered being a landscape architect – someone who designs gardens. From that moment on, that was the career I set my sights on.
When I was fourteen another adult made an innocent remark that also strongly influenced my life. She told me that perhaps more of our garden plants in San Diego – bulbs, annuals, shrubs, etc. – grow wild in South Africa than anywhere else in the world. I discovered for myself that great diversity of South African plants, and longed to go there. My interest broadened over the years to include the country’s history, politics and geography. Thirty years later, in 1965, I did visit South Africa and was thrilled to see familiar plants growing in the wild.
I received a B.S. degree in landscape architecture from U.C. Berkeley, arriving back in San Diego shortly after the U.S. entered World War II. Everyone was involved in some way in the war effort. It was not the time to start a landscape architectural practice. For the duration of the war I worked as an aeronautical engineering draftsman.
In 1946 I joined the San Diego Floral Association, where I became acquainted with landscape architect Roland Hoyt. He had recently been informed by Dr. Ralph Dailard, Deputy Superintendent, that the San Diego City School planned to hire a staff landscape architect, and he urged me to go in for a job interview. At the end of the war the school district embarked on a huge school construction program and realized the need for professional help. In spite of being female, young and inexperienced, I was given the job in May, 1947, perhaps because I had a college degree and the other two male applicants did not. Fortunately, neither Dr. Dailard nor Superintendent Crawford had any bias against women. In 1947 the few landscape architects in San Diego were in one man offices. There were no companies with staffs as there are today. And there were no other women landscape architects locally.
During my interview I learned that the job would include supervision of the gardening staff. I also learned that I had no predecessor. I would be deciding how work would be accomplished. There were advantages and disadvantages to not having established procedures.
Early on it was decided that I would attend all architectural planning meetings that pertained to site planning. This was an advantage many landscape architects don’t have, as I was to put in my two cents’ worth early regarding basic site planning. Another great advantage was a close association with gardening maintenance. I was truly involved with a project from start to finish and beyond. A third great plus was that I had free rein in making plant selections for a project. I had no client to please and no one reviewed my work. The only constraint was the need to keep to a tight budget.
While I lacked experience at the start, I came to the job with a strong knowledge of suitable plant materials. Most of the shrubs I used were old reliables that could take varying types of abuse and still look well. However, I was always able to experiment with promising untested plants, usually in small quantities. For Morse High School, landscaped in 1962, I wanted a fast-growing low ground cover for a slope that would provide some color. I had read in Sunset magazine about a new introduction that seemed to possess the right attributes. It was Osteospermum fruticosum, now so commonly used by Caltrans that it’s known as the Freeway Daisy. While visiting South Africa in 1965 I was thrilled to see it in the wild above the Indian Ocean!
Another new introduction I took a chance on with excellent results was Acacia redolens, now another Caltrans favorite. In 1968 I was looking for a tough shrubby ground cover for a large cut slope at Patrick Henry High School. Ron Peckoff had recently introduced this acacia and had named it Acacia ongerup for the Western Australia town near where he had discovered it. Later, the name was changed.
In 1954 there was no American Society of Landscape Architects chapter in San Diego, although Roland Hoyd and Harold Curtiss were member-at-large. That year Roland s suggested to four landscape architects that they apply for membership, the thought being that we could be a section of the Southern California chapter, based in Los Angeles. Before we could join, a small delegation from that chapter came down to interview us and pronounce us fit to become members. Our little group of six that formed the ASLA section were Roland Hoyt, Hal Curtiss, Harriett Wimmer, Roy Seifert, Brian Wykoff and I. Over the years our numbers grew, but it wasn’t until 1976 that the membership was large enough to form the San Diego chapter of the ASLA. For over twenty years ASLA was a very important part of my life. Just when the chapter was born I retired from City School, gave up my landscape architect’s license, and resigned from ASLA.
In 1959 I had built a redwood contemporary hillside home on two acres in Eucalyptus Hills, Lakeside. I took early retirement in late 1975 in order to finally have time to develop my own place. Native plants, South African proteas and uncommon flowering trees were my main plant interests.
My place gave me many years of great enjoyment, but disaster struck in October, 2003. I lost my house, possessions, and most, but not all, of my trees in the Cedar fire.
I was grateful to escape with my life. I found a saying my mother had drilled into me at an early age was absolutely true: possessions are not the key to a happy life – friendships are. For nearly fifty years I’ve been an active member of Altrusa International, a classified service club for women. The generosity and support from those members and other close friends got me through the shock and trauma following the fire. Thanks to them I never suffered from despair or depression.
It was very exciting in the months to follow to observe Mother Nature’s healing process, as many trees and shrubs stump sprouted. My land is once again green, and I expect to move into a new house sometime in 2006.
For many years I’ve had a passionate interest in habitat conservation, and I belong to numerous environmental organizations. It’s been my great good fortune to be able to travel to many parts of the world where I’ve received much joy from seeing familiar plants growing in the wild. May they never lose their homes! What more satisfying interest could one have than nature and plants?