Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Balboa Park

Whilst en route to Palm Springs a week ago, we spent one night and the following day in San Diego. Philip wanted to see the zoo again and I was determined to finally visit the park. Last time we were in San Diego, I magnanimously agreed to visit the zoo first and by the time we got to visit the park, the heavens had opened and treated us to a morning's most unseasonal rain. It poured - I sulked! So this time we split and whilst Philip visited the elephants and reptiles, I explored the park!

Balboa Park is quite striking, particularly for its amazing architecture. Only later did I discover that it was originally designed for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and later used for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. Both left behind a heritage of amazing buildings, resulting in it being placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Many of the buildings are in a very ornate Spanish Colonial architectural style. There are various museums, theatres and art galleries plus extensive sports facilities. The Spreckels Organ Pavilion features one of the world's largest outdoor pipe organs and nearby there is a reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe theatre. The botanical building is in the shape of a traditional grand glasshouse with a big central dome but in fact the whole structure is a timber lath shade house, built for the 1915 Exposition.

Botanical Building and reflecting pool

Inside the lath structure

California Bell Tower & San Diego Museum of Man

Globe Theatre
Casa Del Prado home of various youth performing arts groups as well as the Botanical gardens Foundation

The whole site is landscaped with grass and trees, and includes several specific areas such as the Alcazar Gardens, the Reflecting Pool, the Cactus Garden, the Casa del Rey Moro Garden, the Rose Garden, the Japanese Friendship Garden, Palm Canyon, and Zoro Garden. San Diego is only a two hour drive from Palm Springs but being coastal has a more equable climate than the severe heat of the desert inland.

Arbutus unedo - the strawberry tree

Sorry - don't know the name of this - anyone enlighten me? Update - thanks to Max for the identification - Spathodea campanulata

The Alcazar garden

Japanese Friendship Garden which wasn't very welcoming as it was locked!

Inside the lath house

Orchid display in the lath house

Desert garden -not a patch on Huntington

The rose garden - never seen decent roses in California but they persist in growing them

Just love these Brugmansia

Duranta erecta

Just loved the roots on this Ficus

The park extends to 1200 acres with 1500 trees but with a disappointing palette of only 350 species of plant. It was a pleasant Sunday morning walk with some interest but compared to so many wonderful parks and gardens I have seen, this was just a B+ - could do better! By contrast I recall that the gardens around the zoo were really far more interesting, so maybe next time I need to eat humble pie and visit the zoo again!


  1. I think the orange flowered tree is a Spathodea campanulata- African tulip tree.
    -Max P.

    1. Many thanks Max for the identification - that seems to be it! Amazing - its regarded as invasive!

  2. That 350 species count for Balboa Park seems rather suspect, as there at least a 100 species of palms. Pity you don't seem to know any of the early history of the park, and the pioneering nursery woman Kate Sessions, who in exchange for operating a nursery on the site, provided the trees, palms and plantings over a decade or more, including many new species she helped collect in Baja California. As to no good looking roses in southern California, you need to get out more. Coastal influenced areas of s. California can grow some fabulous roses, and they don't look too shabby in Pasadena/San Marino area either. While I'm not a fan of roses, your remark seems rather too broadbrush to take seriously.

    1. Thanks for the comments and extra information. The 350 species quoted is based on what I read. Now whilst I do like to find out some information before I write, this is a blog not an academic thesis, so there is undoubtedly much more history to a site such as this. And yes I'd love to travel more but in my personal experience, I've never seen decent roses in California. Someone please invite me and show me the good ones!