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TREES, PLEASE! Join: Kate Sessions Commitment

By Robin Y Rivet.

The logo for the Kate Sessions Commitment is used here with permission: The designer is Wes Janssen, a founding team member for the Kate Sessions Commitment.

Kate Sessions died in 1940. Her extraordinary vision for planting trees in our county did not.

Frequently cited history about Kate’s life:

The image of Kate Sessions as young woman, is a free to use, public domain image.
Kate Sessions as a young woman.

California was only seven years into statehood when Kate was born. November 8th, 2020 observed her 163rd birthday. During her lifetime, she propagated, planted, and encouraged others to grow thousands of diverse species of trees throughout our county. In1892, K.O. Sessions negotiated with the City of San Diego to lease 30 acres of growing grounds in exchange for planting 100 trees a year - in what was then called “City Park”. Largely because of that agreement, she is frequently lauded today as the “mother” of Balboa Park. Her vision helped transform bleak slopes into vibrant, tree-studded landscapes. That effort helped divert early developers, who had alternative concepts involving paving and sub-division.

(To learn more about Kate Sessions, please visit the San Diego Horticultural Society's YouTube channel to watch Nancy Carol Carter's Zoom Presentation on "Kate Sessions’ World Wide Web of Horticulture.")

Photo credit: © San Diego History Center
This historic Arbor Day image of City Park was obtained from the SD History Center by the author for the right to use it in this article.

Her legacy lives:

In her honor, a campaign has recently formed called the KATE SESSIONS COMMITMENT. Its goal is to continue to plant 100 trees in as many neighborhoods around San Diego County as there are people willing to help.

· Plant and dedicate a tree.

· Consider planting two or more – if you’ve removed one.

· Enlist and influence your neighbors, scout troops, or garden clubs to plant trees nearby.

· Sign up to be a community champion: engaging friends and colleagues to plant trees at their jobs, places of worship and community centers.

· Persuade your HOA, school, shopping center, or local small business to de-pave and green-up.

· Locate potential street tree sites, and encourage your municipality to fill vacant spots.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Statue of Kate Sessions, "Mother of Balboa Park", located in the southwest corner of Balboa Drive and El Prado

How does it work?

· A climate appropriate list of species is available: but all trees have a place somewhere - just plant one.

· To encourage quality stock, 5-gallon nursery trees have been pre-ordered and reserved.

· If you cannot afford a 5-gallon specimen at ~$25-$60, there are options. Ask me.

· The choice is yours, but please sign on to make it a ‘Kate Sessions’ tree, and pledge to nurture it.

What’s in it for you?

· To encourage participation, garden plaques will be offered to celebrate and publicize your efforts.

· Making a difference in regional climate mitigation will occur if each of us contributes.

· You will be proud to be a “Kate Sessions Commitment” tree champion.

Consider Kate’s goals - if she were alive today: Kate was ahead of her time. Ms. K.O. Sessions obtained a college degree in natural science from the University of California Berkeley, and at age 26 moved to San Diego. After stints teaching 8th grade, then working as a high school vice-principal, she honed her intense passions toward cultivating plants and trees. Despite near heroic efforts to engage her vision for landscaping Balboa Park, like other women of her time, she was unable to vote in elections until 1911, when California finally granted white women their suffrage. By then, she would have been in her mid-50’s. In the meantime, she owned nurseries and coaxed tree planting everywhere - on public and private lands. Although she dedicated herself to civic duties as a plantsman, teacher and educator, she was never employed nor validated by the city, and her extensive landscaping efforts didn’t garner her a pension. Life wasn’t easy. Social security wouldn’t be enacted until five years before her death, at 80 years old. We owe Kate. Let’s vow to continue to plant healthy trees.


Member Robin Rivet is an ISA Certified Arborist – contact her:


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