Peter Cuthbert was one of the key figures in the early years of the San Diego Botanic Garden as a park planner for San Diego County from 1960-1983. A Navy veteran, he graduated from the University of Oregon in landscape architecture.
In the 1960s, the Garden’s formative years, he was involved in planning and designing landscapes throughout the Garden, including the entrance drive and parking lot, roads, pathways, and other infrastructure elements such as water lines, drinking fountains, and restrooms.
As a park planner for the County Parks and Recreation Department he worked with the County’s lead staff member at the Garden, P. J. Miller, and the Quail Garden Foundation Board. He met regularly with the Foundation’s Landscape Committee during those critical early years. The Chairperson of the Landscape Committee was Mildred Macpherson, a local nursery owner, landscape architect, and educator.
One of the greatest threats to the Garden in the beginning was a proposal to devote sizable acreage to ball fields. Peter Cuthbert with other County planners worked to avert this reduction in the size of the Garden. Finally Paul Ecke, Sr., founder of Ecke Ranch poinsettias, donated nearby land to be developed for sports fields.
When Landscape Committee Chairperson, Mildred Macpherson died in 1973 she left a substantial bequest to the Garden for a spectacular waterfall. Cuthbert worked on the planning of this project for several years with Garden staff, the Quail Gardens Foundation, and Torzeski Studios before it was completed in 1979 with additional County funding. He designed the deck overlooking the Waterfall stream, named in honor of Mildred Macpherson.
Some of Peter Cuthbert’s last projects at the Garden were connected with the Waterfall. Another phase of the Waterfall project was planned, extending the stream through the tropical forest to the lower pool, which was completed in 1986. His last project at the Garden was designing the stairway that leads down from the Waterfall deck to the path below the first pool.
Cuthbert left the San Diego County Planning Department in 1983. He was involved in the development of over fifty County parks, including William Heise County Park, Lake Jennings Park, Mission Trails Regional Park, and San Elijo Lagoon. In addition to his passion for plants and preserving nature he also loved music.
In summer, 2016, he visited the Garden with his daughter, Cindy, for the last time. He was very pleased at how the Garden had developed over the years. He especially remarked at how large the dragon trees had grown.
On December 14, 2016 at the age of 89 Peter Cuthbert passed away, the oldest survivor of San Diego Botanic Garden’s early history.
Banner Photo: Rachel Cobb