John Maclaren

From Bannockburn to San Francisco

1846 – 1943

The eldest son of Donald and Catherine McLaren was born at Craigford, Bannockburn in December 1846. He showed an aptitude for horticulture and trained as a gardener, firstly at Bannockburn House and then at Blair Drummond House. He later found work in Edinburgh, which enabled him to attend classes at the Royal Botanic Gardens where he met his wife.

John McLaren left Scotland in 1872 at the invitation of W.H. Howard, a wealthy Californian landowner, for whom John McLaren built up an estate on the San Mateo peninsula. He remained with Howard until 1887 when, his reputation as a horticulturist firmly established, he was appointed superintendent of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. At that point, the site comprised 1000 acres of little more than sand dunes but by 1900 McLaren had transformed it into one of the world’s most beautiful parks. His great love was for trees of all types, and he utilised them extensively in his work.

Compulsory retirement at 70 held no joy for him but there was such a public outcry at the prospect of the highly respected gardener being forcibly retired that the powers-that-be relented and John was given life tenure as Superintendent of Parks. In 1927 a new park was named after him, and 13th June designated an annual ‘John McLaren’ day. John’s wife and their only son predeceased him by several years; John himself died in January 1943 in the park grounds where he and his wife had lived and he was buried at Cypress Lawn Cemetery.