By Bill Swank
Kate Sessions, Mother of Balboa Park, was the Johnny Appleseed of Jacarandas in Southern California. Over the years, other women earned the title and San Diego’s current Johnny Appleseed of Jacarandas is 86-year-old Bay Ho resident Dorothy Carroll.
Dorothy, known as The Jacaranda Lady, joined The Village Garden Club of La Jolla in 1977. “There were only 15-20 members back then,” she said. “Now there are over 400 and there is a waiting list to join.”
She was president of the club in the 1980s when Sylvia Simpson Coleman agreed to chair a civic beautification project if it would include planting jacarandas. The beautiful, lavender blue flowering jacaranda, native to Argentina and Brazil, can grow to 40-50 feet in height and spread to 40-50 feet in width. In the late spring, jacarandas explode in color and can have an abbreviated, less spectacular second blooming in the autumn.
The club planted their first jacarandas at the entrance to Mt. Soledad Memorial Park in 1987. “Sylvia Simpson Coleman dreamed of people coming to San Diego to see the jacaranda blossoms just like they visit the cherry blossoms in Washington,” said Dorothy.
In the past 30 years, the Village Garden Club of La Jolla has planted over 2,000 jacarandas throughout San Diego County.
On May 16, 1990, Mayor Maureen O’Connor proclaimed the First Annual San Diego Jacaranda Festival and commended the Village Garden Club of La Jolla for their beautification projects. The festival began among the jacarandas at Fourth and Laurel. Participants walked south on Fourth Avenue to Ash Street where the procession turned right and followed the trail of jacarandas to the County Administration Center on the bay.
Dorothy has high praise for both Sylvia Simpson Coleman and Donna Derrick. In 2000, Donna successfully convinced the city to name the jacaranda as San Diego’s official (non-native) tree.
In the 1950s, jacarandas were planted in front of the Buena Vista Garden Apartments from Iroquois to Dakota. Today, the mature trees offer a spectacular springtime treat for motorists who drive along Clairemont Drive.
In 2000, one hundred jacarandas were planted west of Morena Boulevard from Claremont Drive to the Morena split. The city applied for a grant from the Metropolitan Water District to help establish the new plantings. Unfortunately, over the years, these trees have not prospered.
“I counted them the other day. 83 are still alive and they have been looking better lately,” said Dorothy.
The Jacaranda Lady is being kind and generous which is her nature. Care of the trees is the city’s responsibility and some of them look terrible.
The club planted jacarandas in Mission Bay Park from Clairemont Drive to the Hilton along the westside of Interstate 5. They are very special to Dorothy, because the grove is dedicated to Sylvia Simpson Coleman who died in 1993 at age 73. The trees have a decidedly eastern tilt caused by the prevailing ocean breezes that cool Bay Park and Clairemont.
The Garden Club donated 42 jacarandas for the waterfront park along Harbor Drive by the Broadway Pier. In 2015, Dorothy campaigned for additional jacarandas to be planted across the street at Lane Field Park, but the designers went with palms instead. There seems to be no middle ground between palms and jacarandas. People either love them or hate them.
Dorothy notes, “Some people don’t like jacarandas, because they are messy. I advise people to plant them in the lawn so when the flowers drop, they won’t be carried into your home.”
The Village Garden Club of La Jolla accepts donations for jacarandas to honor loved ones. Three large jacarandas are planted near the grave of Padres broadcaster Jerry Coleman at Miramar National Cemetery.
“The jacaranda project has been perfect for me,” said Dorothy. “I hope it goes on and people will continue to dedicate trees to their loved ones so their grandchildren can see the jacarandas grow.”
“I’ve been a stage 4 breast cancer survivor since 2000. I’ve thought about what people would say at my funeral and hope they’ll say, ‘She did a good job.’”
Kate Sessions, Sylvia Simpson Coleman, Donna Derrick and Dorothy Carroll… You all did a good job.