The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever written by H. Joseph Hopkins and illustrated by Jill McElmurry tells the story of a rebellious little girl who managed to change the way people thought and viewed the world.
Katherine Olivia Sessions loved plants and forests. In the 1860s, she explored, got dirty and generally did things that proper young ladies weren’t supposed to do at the time. Her hard work and perseverance made her the first woman to graduate from the University of California with a degree in science. She took her love of science and the outdoors when she moved to San Diego where she worked as a teacher and vice principal at the local school.
At the time she arrived, San Diego was a desert town. Kate missed the trees of her native Northern California, but knew they would not survive in the desert. So leaving her job as a teacher, she became a “tree hunter” travelling and writing to gardeners all over the world, looking for trees that liked hot, dry weather and would thrive in the arid climate of San Diego.
According to the Author’s note, in 1892 Kate made a deal with city leaders to use part of the land in City Park (now Balboa Park) for a nursery. In exchange she planted one hundred trees in the park every year and gave the city 300 more trees for planting in other places. By the early 1900s, one in four trees growing in San Diego came from Kate’s nursery which at its height contained more than 20,000 plants.
In 1909, the city announced that the Panama-California Exposition would be held in 1915 in San Diego’s Balboa Park. Kate thought the park still needed thousands of trees. With a team of volunteers, she planted, and planted, and planted. When the fair opened, millions of trees and plants filled Balboa Park and people were amazed that such a dry climate could support such wonderful gardens.
This is a great book about an important figure in San Diego’s history. I loved the recurring theme of overcoming obstacles with each page ending with “but Kate did.” It’s a great book on perseverance and doing what you love.
Balboa Park is a living memorial to all of Kate’s hard work and is definitely on the must see list for any trip to San Diego. Along with its gardens and enormous variety of trees, shrubs and flowers, Balboa Park is home to 15 major museums, several performing arts venues, a carousel, miniature railroad, and of course the famous San Diego Zoo.