Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden was another stop on the California trip, and I was especially interested to visit this garden for its emphasis on California native plants as evidenced by its mission statement “to foster the conservation of California’s native plants through our gardens, research, and education, and serve as a role model of sustainable practices.” I visited this garden at the end of March, and there were plenty of things in bloom— even the famed California poppies. Just a few days before I was driving down the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco, and this garden seemed like a great ending point to help make sense of the all the interesting plant communities i breezed by on the roadside.

Santa Barbara is a wonderful seaside community with a rich quality of life due to the great climate, amenities, culture and outdoor recreation. Here are a few of my most insightful observations and thoughts:

  1. Strong beginnings. Let it be known that we owe the existence of this place to the Carnegie Institution for Science, a product of the Andrew Carnegie fortune that established the Coastal Laboratory at Santa Barbara, Calif. Around 1925, Plant ecologist Dr. Frederic Clements suggested carving out land dedicated to native plant research, and at this bold request local philanthropist Anna Dorinda Blaksley Bliss purchased 13 acres in Mission Canyon to support this concept. It began as the Blaksley Botanic Garden and eventually grew in size and renamed to the current organization in 1939. From the very outset, it was consciously designed in a naturalistic style with support from planners and designers such as Lockwood de Forest III, Beatrix Farrand, and Lutah Maria Riggs.
  2. Great library. The 1941 historic structure, Blaksley Library, was designed by local architect  Lutah Maria Riggs. The collection was established as a library over 10 year earlier and contains over 15,000 items.
  3. Purposeful focus on natives. One of the Garden’s taglines is “Celebrate California native plants with us”, and they do a great job making this topic exciting. Something particularly special is the fact that SBBG was the first botanic garden devoted to the propagation, display, and study of native California plants and plant communities. According to their website, they have over 1,000 different taxa of plants on display.
  4. Wonderful ecological surroundings and supporting gardens encompassing 78 acres. The main meadow garden has commanding views of the Santa Ynez Mountains, and looking out toward the ocean affords an overlook of Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands. In true California fashion there’s mature stands of natural coast live oak and riparian woodlands. Other ecological communities unique to the state can be seen in the many gardens and sections including the Redwood section, Porter Trail, woodland trail, desert section, canyon section, and manzanita section, to name a few. I particularly liked the Chaparral Section of the Campbell trail because it’s so ingrained in the California identity and I couldn’t think of a better place to go to learn about it.
  5. Treasured cultural landscape. There’s over seven county historic landscape markers located within the core garden’s 23 acres. This includes the Mission Dam and aqueduct from 1806, indian steps, caretaker cottage, information kiosk, library building, original steps, and a bridge. A cultural landscape master plan was completed in 2012 that identifies the years between 1926 and 1950 as the Period of Significance. I’ll add the the Garden’s website is one of the most transparent and public facing sites i’ve seen that aims to help the public learn about cultural landscapes and master plans. It included documents and maps to download as well as a document explaining the complete history of the landscape.

Check out my site photos here


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