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BOOK REVIEW: The Complete Writings of Kate Sessions in California Garden, 1909-1939 New Edition

Reviewed by Lucy Warren, Originally published in California Garden, Mar-Apr 2020.

Oh, Ms. Sessions, why do we all love thee? Your insights, quips, instruction are informed and true. You reach us on so many levels. Reading your own commentary takes us into a world of another age, but speaks to us with fresh inspiration.

Kate Olivia Sessions began her contributions to California Garden magazine in the very first issue in 1909 with advice on tending “The July Flower Garden” and specific advice on the history, description and cultivation of “Romneya Coulteri, or Matilija Poppy”. Her final article “Palms” was found among her papers and published posthumously in 1940.

Within the four decade span of articles, Kate Olivia Sessions shared her enthusiasm for all things plant related. It was an age of discovery and experimentation. She logged her travels from trips to Pomona, Europe, Hawaii and Baja. She commented on local events and gardens. She introduced many plants new to San Diego and encouraged the use of beautiful natives. She corresponded with and shared discoveries and insights from other fine botanists and horticulturists around the world. She test-grew new plants for the Department of Agriculture Plant Introduction Division. Yet, she still instructed how to grow sweet peas to bloom for Christmas.

Nibble at her writings as they take your fancy and you will soon be entranced in her world of people, places and plants.

Originally published over a decade ago (1998) the book was a mammoth task. It provided the first easy public access to the candid, knowledgeable and beautiful work of this acclaimed nurserywoman who grew the landscape of San Diego. Yet, it had limitations. People who still have that precious volume should rush to acquire the new publication. Those who are new to the writings of this amazing woman are in for an inspiring experience.

The New Edition gives us a biography by Nancy Carol Carter to better place this woman in context and history, with a score of photos of her never before compiled. Throughout the book are images of the advertisements for her nursery from the original magazines. And, Rachel Cobb has added beautiful contemporary black and while photos to illustrate plants in articles.

Add to this a timeline of Kate’s life, an index of the people and places she mentions in her articles, and a well indexed plant list. Gardeners, plant lovers, horticulturists, historians, those who love San Diego will all enjoy and appreciate the new edition of Kate Sessions writings from California Garden magazine. Our thanks to the many volunteers of the San Diego Floral Association who contributed hundreds of hours to upgrading the new improved edition.

To purchase the book visit


Lucy Warren is a longtime regional gardening professional in southern California. She has written for many local and national publications, including a regular gardening column in the San Diego Union-Tribune. She has also been editor for California Garden magazine. She is a life-member of the San Diego Horticulture Society, a UCCE Master Gardener, and a horticulture chair on the board of Friends of Balboa Park. She is a sought-after speaker and expert on native plants and sustainable landscaping.


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