by Bart O’Brien, President of California Horticultural Society
On November 24, 2019, we lost Ted Kipping. How can one possibly sum up the tremendous contributions of a polymath such as Ted? It is an impossible task, and all such efforts will be lacking as no one person may have a clear picture of his complex network throughout the plant world. Ted was a life member of many plant and garden groups, including our Friends of the Regional Parks Botanic Garden, and among many others, Bromeliad Society of San Francisco, California Horticultural Society, California Native Plant Society, North American Rock Garden Society (for which he was also the chair of the Western Chapter), San Francisco Cactus and Succulent Society, Friends of the Arboretum & Botanic Garden (UC Santa Cruz), and Friends of the Botanical Garden (UC Berkeley). I heard him exclaim on a number of occasions words to the effect of, “We need a group to focus on [plant genus], and if [you/someone] will start one, I will be the first life member!” And he meant it.
Ted was born in San Francisco in 1945 and essentially was a life-long resident of the city, though he traveled far and wide to see and photograph plants in their native habitats. He started gardening at age five. He studied natural history at Columbia University in New York. When he returned to San Francisco, he started working at Strybing Arboretum (now the San Francisco Botanical Garden). In 1976, he started his company Ted Kipping-Tree Shaper, and in 2002 he and Phil Danielson formed the partnership Tree Shapers that continues to this day.
Over the course of four decades Ted, through his company, provided targeted professional tree work to the Regional Parks Botanic Garden at no cost, often times accomplishing detailed pruning work that was beyond what the Botanic Garden would ever be able to pay for. “Ted Kipping Tree Shaper” is the first name on the Botanic Garden’s donor wall in recognition of his many gifts to the Garden. He provided such free services to numerous other public gardens in the region, frequently using such opportunities to train his capable staff.
His irrepressible enthusiasm for plants and natural history were always in evidence, and his outgoing generous spirit connected him to plant people throughout the country and internationally. To quote Ted, from Carol Olwell’s book Gardening From the Heart: Why Gardeners Garden (1990), “I realized that plant people were some of my favorite people anywhere, regardless of what other sterling virtues non-plant people had. Plant people tend to be…very personable, very giving. That may have something to do with the nature of working with plants; with seeds and cuttings you always have an embarrassing abundance of things to give away.”
Thirty-five years ago, Ted started his personal garden (often referring to it as his “cloud forest garden”) in the frost-free Sunnyside District of San Francisco. It is absolutely jam packed with unusual plants from around the world featuring troughs of alpines, epiphytic bromeliads and orchids, Vireya rhododendrons, fuchsias, begonias, aloes, echeverias, cupheas, geophytes, California native plants, and more that he shared widely. Of course there are also exquisitely pruned conifers.
Ted was a perennial presenter at our Botanic Garden’s Wayne Roderick Memorial Lectures, typically providing at least two talks per season, always attending the other lectures, and often stepping in to provide a talk when another speaker was unable to speak. I can hear him in my mind, in more than one of his memorable presentations, explaining that the Latin names of some plants are musical, and then hearing his basso profundo voice explode in full glorious operatic style (phonetically), “MOAN-ARE-DELLLLLLLLLLLLLA…….O-DOOR-A-TEEEEEEEEESSSS-EEEE-MA!” He always had something germane to add during other talks injecting his thoughts from his usual seat in the far back corner of our auditorium.
All of Ted’s numerous talks and presentations were illustrated by his gorgeous photography. He could be spotted in gardens and in the wild, frequently flat on the ground, capturing beautiful images of our natural world, especially flowers and foliage. Indeed, his last completed presentation was a newly revised program titled “Hooked on Foliage,” and it is a sumptuous summation of his passion for the beauty of plants. He freely shared his photos with others to enhance their presentations and publications.
No one was quicker with a sincere compliment, or expressions of love, friendship, and gratitude. In this, as in so many other aspects of his life, Ted is a role model for us all. He made the world a better place and enriched our lives and gardens. I will miss him terribly.