Sessions, Kate Olivia, 1857-1940

Alternative names
Birth 1857-11-08
Death 1940-03-24

Biographical notes:

Biographical / Historical Notes

Kate Olivia Sessions was born in San Francisco on November 8, 1857. In 1868, her family moved to a ranch in East Oakland where she grew up surrounded by nature, often riding her pony through the countryside and helping her mother in the family garden. She graduated from Oakland High School in 1875. Sessions traveled to Hawaii in 1876 to better her health and entered a San Francisco business college upon her return. In 1877, she entered the University of California at Berkeley, where she studied chemistry and also completed courses on botany, horticulture, and agriculture. Her thesis was entitled “Rock Soap: Chemical Composition, Mineralogical Nature, Geological Occurrence, Technical Value. (Report of Progress).” Sessions received a Bachelor's Degree from the College of Sciences in 1881 and taught in the Oakland primary school following her graduation.

In 1884, Sessions moved to San Diego to teach and serve as principal at the Russ School. A year later, Sessions partnered with Mr. and Mrs. Solon G. Blaisdell who purchased the San Diego Nursery. The partnership with the Blaisdells dissolved in 1887 and Kate assumed the operation of the Nursery; she also operated a nursery in Coronado and a flower shop in downtown San Diego. In 1892, Kate leased a portion of City Park from the San Diego City Council for the building of a nursery. In exchange, she was named City Gardener and agreed to provide trees for the city’s landscaping projects. She continued to operate the nursery in what is now Balboa Park until the park’s development in 1903 forced her to move. That same year, Sessions opened a nursery in Mission Hills. She sold her flower shop to Alice Rainford in 1909, in order to focus on her nursery. In 1925, Sessions’ friends helped her finance a trip to Europe, where she spent several months traveling through England, France, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland and Germany, visiting botanical gardens, exchanging ideas with prominent horticulturists, and obtaining many new plant specimens to introduce in California. In the 1920s, Sessions transitioned to working and living in Pacific Beach, where she operated a nursery for the remaining years of her life. Kate Sessions died in 1940.

Sessions is known for her contributions to San Diego and California horticulture. She traveled to Europe and Baja California, bringing back colorful and drought-resistant plants. Sessions was the first woman to receive the Meyer Medal from the Council of the American Genetics Association and is known as the “Mother of Balboa Park.”

From the guide to the Kate Sessions Collection, 1876-1940, (San Diego History Center Document Collection)


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Ark ID:


  • Gardening


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  • Matterhorn (Switzerland and Italy) (as recorded)
  • Munich (Germany) (as recorded)
  • Angel Island (Calif.) (as recorded)
  • Bolzano (Italy : Province) (as recorded)
  • Berkeley (Calif.) (as recorded)
  • Oakland (Calif.) (as recorded)
  • Como, Lake (Italy) (as recorded)
  • San Francisco (Calif.) (as recorded)
  • London (England) (as recorded)
  • Austria (as recorded)
  • Balboa Park (San Diego, Calif.) (as recorded)
  • Gravetye Manor Gardens (England) (as recorded)
  • Luxembourg (as recorded)
  • Naples (Italy) (as recorded)
  • Venice (Italy) (as recorded)
  • San Jose (Calif.) (as recorded)
  • Champlain, Lake (as recorded)
  • Hawaii (as recorded)
  • New York (N.Y.) (as recorded)
  • Rome (Italy) (as recorded)
  • San Diego (Calif.) (as recorded)
  • Gibraltar, Strait of (as recorded)
  • Lisbon (Portugal) (as recorded)
  • Nuremberg (Germany) (as recorded)
  • Paris (France) (as recorded)
  • Hudson River (N.Y. and N.J.) (as recorded)
  • Pompei (Italy) (as recorded)