Mission San Francisco de Asís and Its Historic, Cinematic, and Photogenic Garden Cemetery


Located in The Mission neighborhood of San Francisco, this mission is also referred to as Mission Dolores. Its common name originates from a creek that once ran near the community named Arroyo de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores. Founded by Franciscans, it is named after my favorite Catholic hero: San Francesco d’Assisi.

It is difficult for me to believe that I have been to the Bay Area almost twenty times in my life, and yet, this was my first visit to the city’s oldest structure, a location made even more famous by its inclusion in one of my all-time favorite Alfred Hitchcock films, Vertigo.

I loved that the official plaque made it very clear that the original adobe walls and roof tiles were still intact.

The first Catholic Mass celebrated here took place under a shelter at this site just a few days before the
signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. These bricks had not yet all been formed and dried at the site. The building was completed in 1791.
Inside, the proof is made even more crystal clear.
My namesake, St Ann(e), mother of Mary, is to the right of the crucified Christ and the Immaculate Conception Mary is to the left. Above St Ann(e) is St Clare, the founderess of the Poor Clares, or, the female Franciscans. Above Mary is her father San Joaquin.
Without going into too much detail about the alter and its iconography, I can say that much is being said in this one that is rather atypical. Since I am such a plant and animal nut, it was really great to see such a formal alter for St Francis and all that he stood for in his work.
Beside the mission church is the larger, more modern, Basilica. Seeing its main alter decked out with garlands of blooms and tons of flowers flooded me with memories. It also allowed me to show my husband where my penchant for springtime pagan-like bloom worship sprung from.

Lastly, there is the famous cemetery. If you have not yet seen Vertigo, I promise to hide my shock. If you have, this is where Jimmy Stewart’s character Scottie follows Madeline and he watches her as she sits and visits a gravesite.

This was the only Italian gravestone we found but there  were many in English and Spanish.  I was also really curious about many of the early Irish people who appeared to have been living here when it was still Mexico. That makes sense since it was Catholic. I’d like to learn more about these people now!

The gravestone from the film is no longer here, but there are plenty of real people to keep you more than entertained for an hour of so. Oh, and then there are the plants!

The plants are rambling all over the place.

If you go and you see something you like, there is a list of plants posted.

The architecture, the light, and the plants, made for an unimaginable visit that day.

Even though it was overcast, I could easily see why Hitchcock had picked the site. For many years the church actually left the gravestone of one Carlotta Valdes in the cemetery, but it became too much of a tourist site, and the stone was removed. I am not sure where it is now, but I am sure that it is out there somewhere.

In the film, this figure can be seen behind Scottie. It was once part of a grotto, and from online research, it appears to have been moved around a bit.

St Francis pacing in thoughtful prayer around the rose garden. He was a bit too large and lifelike for me.

I really liked this stone seat. Its permanence is unquestionable.

A newer addition, this looks a lot like the spineless Prickly Pear developed by Luther Burbank. Against the white wall, it really stands out.

As always, the history of the site appears to overlap with that of my husband’s ancestor who travelled on what was John C. Frémont’s famous Third expedition. It is sad that Basil LaJeunesse became an historical footnote during that trip, but his death reverberated for many years in the lives of those closest to him. It is my belief, based on what I’ve been reading, that it was a loss both Kit Carson and Frémont were unsettled about since during the ensuing weeks they did things they later regretted.

I loved the casual feel here. The stepping stones, Sedum and hose make this feel so much like a garden.

One of the most controversial actions these men took involves this man.

This is the grave of the first mayor of San Francisco—though he was called an Alcalde and the city was then still Yerba Buena. Kit Carson shot and killed his twin sons and their distant cousin in 1846 near San Rafael when told to do so by John C. Frémont. This was just a few weeks after Basil’s death, after they’d attacked and killed the wrong Native Americans to avenge the death in Oregon, and after they must have realized they’d been tracked by Modoc paid by the Mexican Government who’d been tracking them from their encampment near Monterey as they’d headed north of the border for safety.

So enough about all of that for now, you soon will be seeing more of Frémont as he has so many native plants that have his name attached to them. I just have to add this stuff because it is so much a part of why both my husband and I love where we live, between both the Pacific Northwest and California.

So the next time you find yourself in San Francisco, I invite you to sit and stay awhile. Meditate a bit and transport yourself back in time to a California before the Gold Rush, to a time when it was part of Mexico.

Mission San Francisco de Asís or Mission Dolores

Botanical Highlights from Northern California

I will need a vacation when I return home from this vacation. As I write this it is raining outside here in the Bay Area and back home it is sunny and warm. When I return, I am guessing that I will have nothing but a lot of work to do. (How gardens can grow!)
Rather than go on and on about the trip so far, I’ve instead chosen some highlights and I will fill in all the botanical garden and plant information in the coming days. I also want to add that having my AHS membership card has been wonderful because it has made viewing all of the gardens much easier and a whole lot less expensive. I think next time though I will have to get a card for my husband too. Now that he has seen more of the botanical gardens down here, he’d like to go back to them sometimes when he’s traveling doing wine sales work. (AHS Reciprocal Admissions Program)
My husband enjoying one of my favorite little waysides in the redwoods.
A mosquito sculpture beside a pond at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden, Fort Bragg, CA.
A Fuchsia hedge in the garden of a residence in Fort Bragg, CA. I was very jealous.
Discovering Sedum along the ocean at Salt Point State Park in Sonoma County, CA.
I know this is a special plant but I will have to look up the name later. We found it in the Kruse Rhododendron Reserve. near Salt Point State Park in Sonoma Co., CA.
Fancy chickens at Annie’s Annuals. I CANNOT say enough about their nursery. We had a wonderful time and it was easy to find over in Richmond, CA.
This is a transmission repair show that I would trust in San Carlos, CA.
I cannot say enough about Prickly Pears. My other name, Ficurinia, means Prickly Pear in Sicilian dialect.  I would happily live with this lovely prickly friend in San Carlos, CA.
Bottlebrush plants are not for me but I do love their blooms, San Carlos, CA.
Really cool tree outside of the famous restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA.
Wall of Thunbergia at a wine shop in Berkeley, CA.
View of the Golden Gate Bridge (far in the distance) as seen from the Berkeley Botanical Gardens, CA.

Today is yet another adventure, and tomorrow too, but I am afraid we have finally been slowed down by one of my really amazing and sweet old college friends. Yesterday, much food was eaten and our last meal was so decadent it is embarrassing to mention. Let’s just say that we ate Italian-style—for several hours—and each of the four courses had two to four different dishes. The meal was seriously heavenly.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas…

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, the conclusion that we have had an amazingly simple, peaceful and joyful holiday! Lucky for us, the holiday continues until Epiphany, at which time, we will eat Gâteau des Rois and possibly a Gallette des Rois too. So let them eat cake!!! (Poor Marie Antoinette was not the famous princess who said: “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”. So whatever famous princess did, as described in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions, we will toast to her!)
Maybe I will buy another houseplant too to mark the occasion! Let me know if you have any ideas for any great ones! I am sure that I could always use a few more…
Colored poinsettia at Al’s Garden Center, Sherwood, OR. These are painted and not dyed.
The Virgin Mary looking over our holiday poinsettias purchased during our trip to Al’s Garden Center, Sherwood, OR. Our blue one is painted, not dyed. You simply use floral spray paint.
Tillandsia cyanea for Christmas that matches our Advent candles.
What our family calls Mom’s Christmas Cactus. This was given to her during Christmas of 2002 when she was diagnosed with Breast Cancer for the second time. She has been cancer free ever since then and is strong and healthy just like the plant.
Columnea “Lava Flow”. This isn’t exactly the best bloom from this little tike but I have a lot of hope for its continual growth.
Christmas cactus that has not yet bloomed.
The Thirteen Desserts. It is a great Catholic tradition from the French region of Provence. We had a lot of fun with it since there was a degree of flexibility. The nougat was too expensive so we replaced it with white/dark chocolate for good/evil. It was so funny and our guests loved having the tidbits around to nibble on all night. We sat around the table for seven hours and the food, wine and conversation was outstanding.
Bûche de Nöel from our most amazing local French inspired bakery Pix Patisserie. If you are ever in Portland, OR, you MUST visit one of their 2 locations on the East Side. Note to all of you gardeners: rosemary, ladybug, and small bug crawling up the leg of the green pixie only made me more happy to be in love with gardening.
A recent fortune from a Chinese restaurant fortune cookie that I loved.
This is a REAL Christmas cactus. We had no idea where to put it, then I found a place, and it just begged for some Christmas cheer.
Last but not least, this is our Christmas Eve Bouillabaisse. The rouille is key to its success as are the vegetables at its base.  Chef Pietro had to adapt the seafood additions to our West Coast North American version, but it was by far the most amazing soup I have ever had in my life.