As we speak there are budding booms in Golden Gate Park that will have even the greenest of thumbs tickled pink. Yes, it is magnolia season, and the San Francisco Botanical Garden is a fantastic place to check out the flowers’ arrival — the Garden is home to nearly 100 rare and historic magnolias, all erupting in aromatic array. In fact, the collection is the most comprehensive and long-standing one of its kind outside of China. We’re talking 51 species and 33 cultivars, all assembled by the Garden in the name of varietal preservation.
The star of the year’s show is undoubtedly the cup and saucer magnolia, or the Magnolia campbellii. Nicknamed for its distinctive shape, it first bloomed in the United States in 1940, born from a transplanted cutting from a tree in the Lloyd Botanic Garden of Darjeeling, India. The cup and saucer is considered the flagship flower in the SF Botanical Garden due to its size, shape, and vivid coloration.
“Magnolias have long been the signature flower of San Francisco Botanical Garden,” says Don Mahoney, the garden’s curator. “Everyone loves them. They are an unforgettable sight of great beauty, and it turns out that the mild and foggy climate in San Francisco is the perfect environment for Asian magnolias, so we’ve been extremely successful cultivating them here.” His Garden’s collection was born in 1939, when director Eric Walther planted the first bloom.
To commemorate this signature flower’s peak season, the Botanical Garden is assembling a full bouquet of special programs dedicated to the occasion. There will be moonlit docent-led tours highlighting the evening beauty of the flowers, bloom-inspired drawing classes, . The magnolias will also star in the Garden’s celebration of the Lunar New Year — tai chi and lion dance performances will twirl through the weekend of Feb. 16-17 at the Garden, and you’ll be able to make a plant lantern from the petals of the fair blooms.
And like any decent event series, there’s a mixology course scheduled: on January 31 you can join Elixir owner H. Joseph Ehrmann for a hands-on craft cocktail class inspired by the Garden’s magnolias. You’ll be using herbs and spices picked from the Garden itself to make drinks, an intoxicating lead-in to spring.
Magnolias by Moonlight tour
Fri/25, 6pm, $15
Thu/31, 5pm, $125
Family Lunar New Year celebration
Feb. 16, 11am-3pm; Feb. 17, 9:30-11am, free
San Francisco Botanical Gardens
1199 Ninth Ave., SF