The National AIDS Memorial Grove is an elongated seven-acre dell in Golden Gate Park, running dominantly east to west, featuring a central meadow with wooded areas at the east and west ends. The steep slopes on the north and south sides rise from an elevation of approximately six feet above sea level to approximately 30 feet. Within the dell, there are seventeen defined planted areas maintained by volunteers and the Grove's one full-time city gardener.
The Grove was originally known as the de Laveaga Dell, a section of the park that had fallen into disrepair over the years. Since being designated the National AIDS Memorial Grove, restoration efforts have included the construction of a number of site features for public use. These include nine circular limestone gathering areas, numerous Sierra granite boulders, and fifteen freestanding benches. A paved, ADA-compliant mobility path leads to the Grove's currently most prominent artistic feature, the Circle of Friends, which is located near the east end of the Grove. A gravel access path skirts the meadow on its way to several other landscape features within the Grove.
The Circle of Friends serves as a "donor wall" and features the names of those who have contributed to the Grove's endowment. Some names are in honor or in memory of a loved one, and some are those still active in the fight against AIDS. The Circle of Friends was not intended to be the memorial feature.
The Belvedere, which is located above the north slope on Middle Drive, contains a timeline of the AIDS pandemic from its beginning to the dedication of the Grove in 2002. The timeline is etched onto six granite panels, and the text can be found on the Grove's main website.
The Circle of Peace, located furthest west in the most remote and natural part of the Grove, contains no names and is the counterpoint to the Circle of Friends. The inscription around the Circle of Peace, by the poet Thom Gunn, reads:
Walker within this circle, pause.
Although they died of one cause,
remember how their lives were dense
with fine, compacted difference.
The nine limestone features take both round and broken round form, a design symbolism for circles that break when people die. Roughly from east to west, they include:
Main Portal: 28' diameter
South Portal: 20' diameter
Circle of Friends: 36' diameter
Pine Crescent: 22' diameter
Belvedere: 16' diameter
Crossroads Circle: 70'(E-W) x 58'(N-S)
Meadow Overlook: gentle arc
West Portal: 15' diameter
Circle of Peace: 24' diameter
All the stone used in the above features is a dolomite limestone. Specifically, the stone is Minnesota Northern Gray Buff stone provided by Vetter Stone Co., Kasota, MN. The paving is flagstone. Wall veneer and caps or coping are also used in these features. For more information about the stone visit the manufacturer's web site at
Planting and Maintenance Intentions
The plantings in the Grove —both new and existing—have been carefully planned to create a sequence of spaces.
The Manzanitas / Redwood Knoll
Located at the Main Portal, this area should remain manicured and good looking throughout the year. California native plants predominate, and plant colors are to be subtle and muted. The large, old rhododendrons and camellias are a historic remnant from the park's early days and will not be replaced. As the redwoods grow, their low branches should be trimmed to provide visibility. The seasonal color of wildflowers provides a transitional groundcover until the low growing shrubs mature, eventually reaching 3-4 feet.
Coast Redwood, Ginkgo, Strawberry Tree
Manzanita, California Coffeeberry, Creeping Mahonia, Bergenia, Douglas Iris, Rhododendron, Ceanothus, Hebe, wildflowers (transitional)
The Pines / Northern Slope
A canopy of large, mature conifers towers over large scale drifts of low-growing shrubs. The steep south-facing hillside has a Mediterranean feel; plants are drought-tolerant and many have silver-colored foliage. The central area of the slope retains an open quality, though a transitional zone to the east is higher, denser, and moister as it meets The Manzanitas and The Redwood Grove. From the sidewalk along Middle Drive East, views should be maintained down the Northern Slope, through the Pines and into the Meadow. Pedestrian traffic down the slope is discouraged by dense plantings along the top of the slope.
Monterey Pine, Monterey Cypress, Catalina Ironwood, Coast Redwood, Chinese Pistache, Loquat
SHRUBS / GROUNDCOVER
Echium, Artemesia, Ceanothus, Lavender, Manzanita, Western Redbud, Coyote Bush, Toyon, Worrmwood, Monkey Flower, Coast Silk Tassel, Cleveland Sage, Giant Feather Grass, Buckwheat, Fortnight Lily, Abelia, Foxglove, Columbine, Rushes, Rhododendron, Pittosporum, Shasta Daisy, Luma (remove)
Soft, delicate and manicured plants form a backdrop to the Circle of Friends. Fragrant white and pink flowers lighten the generally muted tones. Plants step up in height ascending the slope, strengthening the enclosed, bowl-shaped form of the space. Larger trees should grow further up the slope, away from the circle. Deciduous plantings to the south are intended to allow winter sun to reach into the Circle of Friends.
Korean Dogwood, Japanese Maple, Coast Redwood, Strawberry Tree, Magnolia, Michelia
SHRUBS / GROUNDCOVER
Red Twig Dogwood, Bergenia, Sarcococca, Giant Chain Fern, Japanese Anemone, Rhododendron fragrantissimum, Alum Root, Flower Currant, Iris (large yellow), Gunnera
The dark, cathedral-like, space beneath the towering redwoods creates quiet, intimate, and meditative spaces. The sparse under story is mostly comprised of redwood duff, interspersed with redwood sorrel and ferns. Here, seasonal change is scarcely noticeable and planting color is quite limited. Older Elm trees within the grove should not be replaced as they die.
Coast Redwood, Douglas Fir
SHRUBS / GROUNDCOVER
Rhododendron, Azalea, Acanthus, Oak Leaf Hydrangea, Vine Maple, Wood Fern, Sword Fern, Giant Chain Fern, Wild Ginger, Bergenia, Alum Root, Redwood Sorrel, Salal
The Meadow /Crossroads Circle
The meadow is intended as an open lawn capable of withstanding heavy use. As such, any drainage problems will need to be corrected. Access for maintenance vehicles needs to be provided at the meadow edge near Crossroads Circle. In the short term, access can be provided by installing grass-cell paving at the west end of the lawn. When the Elms at Crossroads Circle die, the replacements should be relocated to allow maintenance vehicles to turn around in the Circle. Replacements for the Elms should be deciduous, large, high growing, and stately.
The twisting trunks of the oaks along with other native plantings create a sense of the California foothills. The under story of duff and ferns creates visual openness that maximizes views of the oak trunks. However, off-trail foot traffic should be discouraged. The park maintenance yard is screened by shade-loving vines.
Coast Live Oak, Cork Oak, California Bay Laurel, Madrone, Big Leaf Maple
Western Hazelnut, Mahonia, Vine Maple, Evergreen Currant, Red Flowering Currant, Giant Chain Fern, Sword Fern, Australian Bluebell Creeper, Fuschia
The dry creek bed provides a transitional corridor between the main grove and the west end. The dry creek bed suggests water while remaining dry. The creek feels wild, natural, and is vaguely un-groomed. Small drifts of small, delicate shrubs climb the banks of the creek bed.
Coast Redwood, Madrone
Snowberry, Vine Maple, Bergenia, Horsetail, Sword Fern, Wood Fern, Sedge, Fragrant Sarcoccoca, Mahonia, Alum Root, Fuschia
This deep, lush, intensely green bowl has a prehistoric feel. It is an area of solitude, a memorial to the un-named. Historic remnants include a crumbling fountain, and old plantings, make this area uniquely different from the rest of the grove. Historic plantings will be preserved but not replaced. This area is also serves as the main access to the grove from the west side.
Coast Live Oak, Camellia (oldest in Golden Gate Park)
SHRUBS / GROUNDCOVER
Tasmanian Tree Fern, Sword Fern, Wood Fern, Sarcoccoca, Mahonia, Douglas Iris, Gunnera, California Fuschia, Fuschia-Flowering Gooseberry, Bergenia, Santa Barbara Daisy
The Maples / Southern Slope
In contrast with the Northern Slope, this slope is greener, lusher, and woodsier, with long, low drifts of plantings. Planting color is limited. Planting on the south slope should screen the Maintenance yard and UCSF from the meadow and the meadow overlook on Middle Drive East. However the planting should be open enough to let light into the meadow.
Oaks, Elm (don't replace), Japanese Maple (green)
Acanthus, Rushes, Ferns, Society Garlic anthus, Rushes, Ferns, Society Garlic
More site information is included in the section Available Resources.
For further information on individual plantings, please visit the United States Department of Agriculture's searchable database.