Winter in San Francisco

– Posted in: Garden Photography, Garden Visits, Miscellaneous

To anyone who has not been in San Francisco in the winter it will be hard to believe these are winter photos, taken in the past couple of years in The San Francisco Botanical Garden during the month of January.

So, this is winter in San Francisco !

I know; it’s a delight.

Garden visitors photographing Christmas Heather (Erica) in winter

San Francisco is a very mild, summer-dry, winter-wet climate, where it almost never freezes and gardens are growing 12 month of the year. The Botanical Garden is a showcase of plants from similar summer-dry (sometimes called mediterranean) climates but because it is so temperate, many plants from many parts of the world thrive.

Telanthophora grandifolia – Giant Groundsel, in Mesoamerican Cloud Forest

In fact the Magnolias, one of the signature collections of the Garden, are not native to summer-dry climates at all and are a highlight of winter.  These big deciduous trees begin their blooming and late December and go into late March.

Magnolia sargentiana, (Sargent’s magnolia) flowering deciduous tree

I wrote about the magnolias last January, if you want to see other photos.

Magnolia soulangeana flower unfolding in San Francisco Botanical Garden.

The trees are quite large and it’s quite a challenge to photograph them. At the same time, because they are so large, you can walk under and look up.

Dawson’s magnolia (Magnolia dawsoniana), deciduous tree, silhouette

And in winter, you may even find a bird nest exposed.

Where the trees have sweeping branches low enough to photograph and see closely, I find myself mesmerized by their simple structure.

Magnolia doltsopa at San francisco botanical garden, Strybing Arboretum

Magnolia doltsopa, aka Michelia doltsopa, Sweet Michelia

One of my favorite parts of the garden, in any season, is the South African collection. The southern Cape of South Africa is another  summer-dry climate and there are many wonderful plants that do quite well in California, and are quite showy in winter.

The collection is quite mature in this part of the garden, showcasing a wonderful shrub border with Erica, Podocarpus, Aloes, and Leucadendrons.

Flowering winter shrub border, San Francisco Botanical Garden

Detail of the Erica canaliculata, known variously as Christmas Heather, Scotch Heather, or Pink Heath.

Pale pink flowers of Erica canaliculata,winter blooming flowering shrub

Leucadendrons, Cone-bush, are one of the most showy shrubs, and the bright involucral leaves at the tips of flowering branches are particularly showy in winter.

Leucadendron conebush flowering in San Francisco Botanical Garden

They are in the Protea family and have become quite popular in floral arrangements.

Leucadendron  conebush flowering in San Francisco Botanical Garden

Many other wonderful South American plants are featured in this part of the garden.  Featherhead, Phylica pubescens, is a photographer’s delight.

Phylica pubescens – Featherhead Bush, leafy ‘feather duster’ stems

I am particularly fond of grasses and in recent years Restio’s, a large grasslike group of plants from South Africa, have become increasingly popular the West Coast gardens.

Thamnochortus insignis, South African Thatching Reed

As any of you who have been following Debra Lee Baldwin, the Succulent Queen, my fellow co-blogger here at Gardening Gone Wild,  you know succulent gardens are photogenic almost any time of year.  And when the Aloes flower in winter – Yowza!

Aloe arborescens, Candelabra or Krantz Aloe, red flowering succulent.

I love the way the red flowering aloe provide touches of color when photographing other sections of the the botanic garden’s Succulent Garden, as you can see behind these magnificent Agave americana.

Agave, Century Plant; silver succulent in San Francisco Botanical Garden

Much of the country is in the midst of a brutal snowy winter. Here in this winter wet climate we’re finally been having glorious rains, and in San Francisco, gardens are lookin’ good.

Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at
Saxon Holt

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crazy landscape gardener manchester February 20, 2017, 6:27 am

Those magnolias are just amazing, my breath stopped, hope one day I can visit San Francisco

Saxon Holt February 28, 2017, 12:24 am

Every winter the season varies a bit but anytime in Jan – March will find some of them in bloom.

Scott March 3, 2017, 12:56 pm

i visited san francisco 2 years ago but I didn’t have any opportunities to see Those amazing magnolias and now i see them here, thanks for oppenning my eyes!

Saxon Holt March 5, 2017, 7:32 pm

Scott – Now you have to come back….

John Anderson November 5, 2017, 6:39 am

I must say, the photographer who took these photos should be nominated for Oscar.this is not easy to capture all beauty in the camera just by taking some takes time and efforts to capture these awesome magnolias.

Saxon Holt November 28, 2017, 4:43 pm

Thanks John ! But the Oscars? I would settle for the Pulitzer 🙂

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