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IN MEMORIUM: Pat Hammer Remembered

By Susi Torre-Bueno, for Let’s Talk Plants! October 2023.

Pat Hammer Remembered

I was shocked and saddened to hear that Pat Hammer had died on September 2, 2023. I’d known Pat since about 1998, and had visited her in a medical rehab facility about ten days before she died. She had had a massive stroke a few days before. It was heartbreaking to see such a vibrant woman so seriously impaired, and it was in such stark contrast to the last time we had gotten together, some months earlier, to swap plants and chat about our gardens and mutual friends.

Cover of The New Topiary by Pat Hammer.

Pat, who was born in New Jersey, had a long career in topiary, starting at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, where she wrote her book, which soon became a classic, The New Topiary. Pat moved from Pennsylvania to California in 1992. I remember visiting her in her apartment in Leucadia, where she had a small garden outside the apartment and a thoroughly charming kitty. She had several cats over the years, and they were all outrageously adored – and the sentiment was mutual. I always think of her with a cat, just as I think of her with ivies, which she also cherished and which she had a seemingly vast assortment of. She was crazy about ivies, and from 1990 - 2000 was the president of the American Ivy Society and wrote a number of articles for their magazine and website, one of which you can read here:

(or about her here: Ivy Collection)

When I first got to know her, she had a charming shop in Leucadia called Samia Rose Topiary. She sold topiary arrangements and supplies, an impressive assortment of English ivy cultivars, and also lovely tins of teas and a choice selection of tea accessories. Topiaries that Pat created are on display at Universal Studios, the Dallas Arboretum, and the San Diego Safari Park, as well as in a great many private gardens. I remember some years ago when she visited Japan to oversee the installation of topiaries which she had designed for the Western Village theme park in the Nikko National Park. About twenty years ago I hosted a fundraising event at our home and Pat very generously loaned me three of her custom topiary figures: a life-size English butler and French maid, plus a life-size monkey.

In 2002-2003 she created a set of seven topiaries that were life-size musicians and dancers. Each one had a clay face that was a life cast of one of her friends or staff, including Maria and Loreto Ramirez, who became employees of her business thirty years ago and whom she counted as close friends. Among the other masks were those of Don and Dorothy Walker, among the founders of the San Diego Horticultural Society (in 1994). I was privileged to see this marvelous group of topiaries before they were shipped east in 2003 as one of the very select invited displays at the prestigious Philadelphia Show. I flew to that city to see the show in February. They were staged on a huge circular platform, where the five musicians played a variety of instruments and the Walkers danced on a special revolving section to the recorded music. It was thoroughly enchanting. In the last twenty years these topiaries have gone through several changes of venue, and they are now very happily ensconced, clothed in succulents, at the San Diego Botanic Garden. You can read more and see some very nice photos, in this article:

She took a break from topiary and closed the shop for twelve years (2005-2017) when she became the Director of Operations at the San Diego Botanic Garden. While there she had a myriad of duties, working on budgets, staffing, helping to organize many events, etc. To me, it seemed like there was hardly anything that went on at the garden during those years that Pat didn’t have her hand in. I’d see her at all the annual plant sales, the garden parties, the wintertime Holiday of Lights, and many other special events.

Almost ten years ago, Pat, having retired from San Diego Botanic Garden, moved to a home in San Marcos, where she re-opened Samia Rose Topiary and turned a large outbuilding into a topiary workshop. She grew veggies in many huge planters, grew ivies in the back garden, and had an enchanting succulent garden in the front of her house which created verdant privacy from the street. Pat held popular open house events there, and they were delightful occasions for her numerous friends. Pat’s late mother, who was the “Rose” in Samia Rose, lived with Pat for several years, and took great pride in her daughter’s accomplishments. Rose was an enthusiastic participant of the open houses, urging guests to enjoy the yummy food and showing off Pat’s newest topiary creations. Pat held topiary workshops so people could create their own hands-on creations. The Samia Rose Topiary website offered kits, supplies, and custom topiary designs.

Pat had a terrific smile, a great sense of humor, was a natural diplomat, and always a generous and loyal friend. I shall miss her so much, as will her many friends, and will cherish the fond memories of the fun times we had together, often involving Thai food and much talk about plants. You can learn more about her and Samia Rose Topiary on her website:


From The SDHS Sharing Secrets Archive, June 2011:

The Question Was - Summertime often means travel, and what could be more fun than seeing gardens in other climate zones?

Cindy Sparks answered “I like a place in Mexico: My favorite faraway garden is the Vallarta Botanical Garden just outside of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I visited there a few years ago, while we were cruising Mexico. My visit came just after Pat Hammer had been there with her mother. I chatted with the Director and got a great tour, and he was amazed that I knew Pat, and at how tight the horticultural community is. Shortly after, I believe Charley and Sue Fouquette sent him a load of orchid handling equipment for the Garden. The garden was young even then, but they were building a wonderful orchid collection along with a collection of indigenous plants and all lovely tropical things that do well in that climate zone. They have a beautiful theme building with a charming restaurant. I sat out on the balcony to enjoy a light lunch. The wind was blowing and to ward off the chill, one of the servers brought me a big furry blanket wrap so I could be comfortable while enjoying the stunning view out on the high veranda. It was so memorable that I want to go back to Puerto Vallarta just to see the garden again. The shopping in the little gift shop was good, too. And everything there is bi-lingual, of course. Check out Carretera Puerto Vallarta a Barra de Navidad Km 24, Las Juntas y los Veranos, Cabo Corrientes, Jalisco C.P. 48447, MÉXICO; 011 52 322 223-6182;”


Current President’s Note:

I believe that Susi’s heartfelt remembrances of Pat echo the sentiments of so many SDHS members including myself.

I knew Pat but was not lucky enough to know her well, but that didn’t stop her from making lasting impressions on me.

I am a tea drinker, practically lifelong, and her Samia Rose teas from a company called The Republic of Tea® are sold everywhere now but years ago were, at least to me, a dedicated consumer of teas both financially as well as actually, very unique offerings. To this day when I see The Republic of Teas® on a store or my pantry shelf, I think of Pat.

But that’s not the only impression Pat made on me because I also think of her when I see Ivy! Any ivy brings Pat to mind, whether growing in my yard or elsewhere, indoors or out, since the Ivy Society’s mother plant collection was housed in Pat’s Leucadia greenhouse that she kindly gave me a tour of, complete with a cup of delicious tea in hand, which turned out to be an outstanding learning experience and is a fond memory for me.

And on a humorous note, when Pat worked at San Diego Botanic Garden, I interacted with her often during events, especially during the Annual (now defunct) Herb Festival (which I miss). In 2011, when Horseradish was the International Herb Association’s Herb of the Year™, (yes, the same group and program that I am currently a board member of and books contributor), Pat and the SDBG had invested in a case of Horseradish books to sell during the event since the keynote speaker was a book contributor as well as the editor. I had not contributed to this book, so I did not buy any to sell personally. To say that Horseradish was not a big seller for the Gardens is an understatement and they had practically a whole case left after the festival. When she told me this, I asked Pat if I could buy a couple books at cost to sell myself, which she happily allowed, saying she was going to put the rest in the Gift Shop for sale. At the next year’s festival, I still had those Horseradish books to sell and so did SDBG! Neither the Gift Shop nor I could sell them. We both marked them down considerably during the next event and finally Pat marked the remainder of the case out of stock and gave the books to me to use as door prizes at my speaking engagements and we laughed about this fiasco when we saw each other ever after, because as I came to find out, door prize winners would leave the books they won behind like some sort of horrible white elephant gift. I couldn’t even give them away!

This year, I attended the IHA board meeting held in Austin, Texas where the board discussed the future of the Herb of the Year™ program and it was there that I found out that, of the HOY books published to date, shockingly Horseradish is consistently the best seller of the sixteen books available. What? In case you wish that you could get a copy, you can! But not from me. Head over to Tell them Pat Hammer and I sent you… 2011 Herb of the Year™: Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) - The International Herb Association (

I wish I had had the opportunity to tell Pat this information myself before she passed away because we would have had another good chuckle.

Her legacy, even with those who did not know her well, is lasting and a tribute to a wonderful woman.

~ Karen England


Susi Torre-Bueno served as president from 2003 to 2010 and was instrumental in growing the organization and establishing it as a San Diego institution. In 2012, Susi was honored as our Horticulturist of the Year.


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