To say that Julia von Preissig was a “Founder” of what is today called San Diego Botanic Garden would be an understatement. It would be more correct to label her as the “Force” behind its evolution from a park—intended for the preservation of California quail—to today’s spectacular botanic garden. Hers is a name with which we should all be familiar.
The process of transforming the Larabee Ranch into a true botanic garden was a mammoth undertaking. It called for a strong leader who could coordinate with the County, explore models of botanic gardens in other parts of the country, pull together a team, and synthesize the goals of the Foundation into realistic plans. It called for someone who could channel those plans into concrete acquisitions for the garden. It called for someone capable of doing the dirty work as well as maintaining sight of the big picture. That leader was Julia Von Preissig.
In the early 1960s, not long after Ruth Larabee left, von Preissig was the liaison between the County of San Diego and the young Quail Gardens Foundation, Inc. (That Foundation included people like Muriel Macpherson and Paul Ecke, Sr., whom we have talked about before.) She spent untold hours working out agreements with the County to make sure they were satisfactory to all concerned.
In 1967, she was elected president of Quail Gardens Foundation, Inc., a position she held until she died in 1973. During those six years, she was known to be busy “twenty-six hours a day, with her ‘four’ grandchildren: two girls, a boy, and the Quail Gardens Foundation.”
Von Preissig kept a daily calendar during her tenure as President that illustrated the dedication and focus required to create a botanic garden. For example, in a matter of days in 1968, she attended a garden society meeting, picked up a load of bromeliads, contracted with garden planners, pressed flowers for note cards, packaged seeds she brought from trips to Mexico, set up tables for a Foundation meeting, and wrote letters to important contacts.
Ultimately under Julia von Preissig’s leadership the Foundation’s efforts came to fruition. On March 8, 1970—just months after Ruth Larabee passed away—Quail Park Botanic Gardens officially opened to the public. As Foundation President, Julia von Preissig addressed the gathered members, dignitaries and public at the formal opening. These were her inspiring words:
“We dream and work toward preserving the rustic charm of the estate, its fine, old plantings and its natural life; toward endowing the gardens with the choicest trees, shrubs, and flowers; toward cultivating a center for research and study; and toward developing all those features which will provide a quiet haven for the delight of people, young and old, from near and far.”
Von Preissig was a native of Wyoming, a professional artist, and later helped manage her family’s subtropical plantings and avocado groves. She was also Commissioner of Parks and Recreation in Vista and an early champion of environmental conservation.
Banner Photo: Rachel Cobb