About Kate

Katherine Olivia Sessions (1857-1940)

Start by listening to The Tree Lady, a book about Kate Sessions life, action, and accomplishments. video book reading-6 minutes

Katherine Olivia Sessions (1857-1940)

Kate Sessions operated a nursery in City Park (now Balboa Park) in exchange for planting 100 trees annually in the park and providing 300 trees to the city for planting elsewhere in San Diego.

By planting and protecting trees in your yard or community, Kate Sessions Commitment is a modern version of “giving back.”

Kate was a world traveler and brought more than 140 plant species back to San Diego for cultivation, including the jacaranda tree.

Today, we need to introduce plants that will thrive even when the climate changes.

Kate Sessions was a botanist, horticulturist and landscaper who lived from 1857 to 1940. Kate Sessions founded Mission Hills Nursery in 1910. Kate designed gardens, planted trees, wrote hundreds of articles in garden magazines, taught classes, and led tours.

Some older San Diego neighborhoods have legacy trees that Kate Sessions sold or planted.

Longer biography of Kate Sessions, by Nancy Carol Carter.

Katherine Olivia Sessions was born in San Francisco on November 8, 1857. She enjoyed a carefree childhood, riding her pony and taking up the hobby of collecting and preserving wild flowers and ferns. After high school, her botanical interests were boosted by a two-months long trip to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). She enrolled in the scientific curriculum at the University of California, Berkeley, graduating in 1881. Two years later she was hired at San Diego’s Russ School where she taught mathematics and served briefly in administration.

For more than fifty years she was the sole proprietor of her own nursery business. She had entered into a private-public agreement with the City of San Diego in which she could operate her nursery on park land in exchange for developing an experimental garden, planting 100 trees annually in the park and providing 300 trees each year to the city for planting elsewhere in San Diego. Kate Sessions planted hundreds of trees in the park over the period of her ten-year lease, earning the title “Mother of Balboa Park.” Her nursery business was later moved to Mission Hills and, during the last years of her life, to Pacific Beach.)

Kate Sessions lives on in public memory.

  • A San Diego elementary school and a public park are named in her honor (view from Kate Sessions Park, above).
  • The location of her Pacific Beach nursery is a designated California Historical Landmark.
  • Plant hybridizers of the begonia, geranium, hibiscus, lilac, lychee tree and rose have created “Kate Sessions” cultivars. She has been inducted into the San Diego Women’s Hall of Fame.
  • A bronze statue of Sessions was placed at the Laurel Street entrance to Balboa Park in 1998.

Read a longer biography of a longer biography of Kate Sessions, by Nancy Carol Carter.

Watch this 7-minute video of Kate Sessions’ influence, by Tiger Palafox, owner of Mission Hills Nursery, that Sessions started.