14 Things You Didn’t Know About John McLaren, the Head Gardener in Golden Gate Park

14 Things You Didn’t Know About John McLaren, the Head Gardener in Golden Gate Park

John McLaren Memorial Statue in Rhododendron Dell in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California - Photo by William Warby

John McLaren is more than a horticulturist and head gardener who aided the creation of Golden Gate Park. He’s considered a co-creator of the entire park system in the San Francisco area. As a nod to his 56 years of service to Golden Gate Park and surrounding parks, we’ve compiled a list of 12 things you didn’t know about John McLaren.


  1. John McLaren was ardent about not putting statues in Golden Gate Park which he called “stookies. Famous for fighting every time anyone wanted to place a statue in his park. When he lost the fight, after the ribbon cutting and unveiling he would send his men to hide the offending monument by planting trees, shrubs and vines around it, obscuring the view.
  2. Ironically he’s remembered by a small statue in the park. This statue was packed in a crate hidden away in a barn by McLaren. It was not displayed until after he passed away. Showing his connection with the park it is the only statue in the park not on a pedestal.
  3. The bronze statue still has saw marks on one leg where someone tried and failed to steal it. Maybe McLaren’s ghost?
  4. The second-largest park in San Francisco is named after John McLaren and spans 300 acres, only about 1/3 the size of Golden Gate Park.
  5. McLaren was the first superintendent of parks. This role required him to manage the maintenance and construction of the San Francisco parks.
  6. He stayed in his role of superintendent for 56 years, aiding in planting and gardening until the park became the lush masterpiece that it is today.
  7. During his park stewardship, McLaren is credited with planting a whopping two million trees.
  8. He was initially a dairyman in Scotland, his homeland until he began his studies of horticulture at the Edinburgh Royal Botanical Garden. Here, he was taken under the wing of a gardener as an apprentice.
  9. John McLaren moved to the US in 1870, where he began working on estates like the George Howard estate. After befriending John Muir, he shifted his focus to building the Golden Gate Park and was named superintendent in 1887.
  10. McLaren negotiated $30,000 a year toward building the Golden Gate Park and no “Keep off the grass” signs as part of his requirements for agreeing to the title of superintendent.
  11. He lived in the McLaren Lodge, which later became the Recreation and Park headquarters. The lodge is at the entrance to the park.
  12. McLaren had a reputation as a cranky man who was highly dedicated to his work. His dedication earned him a lifetime tenure at Golden Gate Park.
  13. McLaren was known to hand out candy to children who passed the McLaren Lodge every Sunday despite his reputation.
  14.  John Hays McLaren lived to the age of 96. He was honored during his funeral by being driven through the Golden Gate Park.


Golden Gate Park Tour Opportunities


After learning about John McLaren, you can appreciate his work as you visit Golden Gate Park. The expansive park is best traveled through a Golden Gate Park Segway tour.


Choose between joining a group for a 2.5-hour trip through the park on The Official Golden Gate Park Segway Tour. Or, enjoy a more in-depth three-hour Private group Golden Gate Park Segway Tour, including additional landmarks and attractions.



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