In the early 1900s, what is now San Diego Botanic Garden consisted of two parcels of land on a sandstone ridge with a view of the Pacific Ocean and canyons and mesas covered largely in southern maritime chaparral. Those parcels were never part of a Mexican rancho, but occupied uncontested land available to homesteaders after California won independence from Mexico. Barley was grown in some sections of the land by early residents.
Donald Carlton Ingersoll, a mailman turned builder/contractor, bought a parcel of 16.5 acres in 1917 and built the tiny ranch home that later became the Larabee House. In 1923, Holland immigrant Anton van Amersfoort, a successful landowner and avocado farmer, purchased this parcel and the house and farmed avocados here as well. During his tenure of 20 years, van Amersfoort also planted numerous large trees and shrubs and lined the road with of Monterey cypress. The second parcel of 10 acres was owned by a German immigrant named Herman Seidler.
In 1942 and 1943, Ruth Baird Larabee bought the two parcels and developed the ranch with her husband Charles Wright Larabee. They were each independently wealthy from Midwestern families and lived in Kansas City until embarking on this adventure. The Larabees were drawn together by their passion for nature and the outdoors. They collected and planted over 200 different species of trees, shrubs, cacti and succulents, many from Mexico and South America. Their lives were complex and untraditional, filled with adventure, love, loss, and tragedy. They were also generous and civic minded individuals who devoted themselves to sharing the outdoors with young people in scouting groups.
In 1957, Ruth deeded 22.3 acres of land to the County of San Diego as a park to preserve the resident California quails. This was the beginning of what we now call San Diego Botanic Garden.
For more about local history, the Larabees, and what followed their departure, you can explore the following links and resources:
Cultivating Their Place in History (PDF FILE)
A brief record of the life of Ruth and Charles Larabee, who originated San Diego Botanic Garden.
Sowing Seeds of Wonder
The Stories of Ruth and Charles Larabee, and the Origins of San Diego Botanic Garden, by Sally Sandler.This 200-page book is for sale in The Garden Shops at SDBG, and it can be ordered through amazon.com.
Historical Timeline (PDF FILE)
Significant dates in the Garden’s history, from before the Larabees to the present time.
A Gift and a Puzzle
Explains how the land evolved from the concept of a park in 1957 to the botanic garden that opened in 1970.
Development of San Diego Botanic Garden
Tracks the Garden’s growth from the opening of Quail Park Botanic Garden in 1970 to the 37 acre urban oasis of today.
Legacy of the Ecke Ranch (PDF FILE)
Contributions and histories of the unique people who lived near the Ecke Ranch, 1880-1960. The Ecke Ranch (now the Leichtag Foundation) was immediately adjacent to San Diego Botanic Garden, and they shared a similar legacy.
Other Significant People in the History of San Diego Botanic Garden
(More biographies will be added as they become available.)
Banner Photo: Rachel Cobb