A winter visit to Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Mr. Wood Rat and I took a mid-week jaunt down to Santa Barbara in late January. The highlight for me, of course, was a visit to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

There's something interesting in this photo: the palms on the left have no skirts of dead leaves. The smaller ones on the right do. Do you know why? The ones on the right were untouched by the Jesusita fire that swept through the garden in May 2009. You can see some amazing before and after photos here. Unfortunately most of the rare and endangered plant collection was lost in the fire.

Many wonderful views opened up to us as we strolled along with a botanist friend who has volunteered in the garden for many years. 

Look how lush! And they haven't been getting the satisfying rains we did here on the Central Coast (though they seem to be behind us now).

I love this coast live oak, and the split-log bench below it! Many beautiful oaks adorn the gardens.  

The garden features woodland, desert and many other types of habitat

Including redwood habitat! The trees looked quite happy, though redwoods don't grow south of Monterey County in the wild.

I particularly wanted to see the tea house, and how California native plants are so suited to a Japanese garden aesthetic. Look how the manzanitas go from tall and sculptural down to the lower forms at the end of the bed. 

Lovely stone work flowing down to the tea house, featuring traditional elements.

Now this is going to be quite a meadow! I believe this is their third year of growing annuals from seed, between letting weeds grow and then killing them (tilling them? I forget how). The idea is to deplete the seed bank. I'll have to come back when the meadow is established. The shiny things are strips of metal to deter birds.

All over the garden planting was in progress. This bed is going to be stunning, with deer grass and iris and heuchera and hummingbird sage and woodland strawberries and flowering currant and violets. This was in the redwood habitat area, as you might imagine.

Gorgeous rocks, and more plantings - not sure what grasses, maybe California fescue? Or more deer grass? 

Our friend brought us to the Mission Dam, built by native Chumash people laboring for the mission fathers. The wooden aqueduct is a faithful reconstruction. The top of the dam itself was covered in red tile. Interestingly a major flood not too long ago washed away rocks and debris to reveal that the tile extended up one bank of the river. Nature's archaeology!

One of the highlights for me was a visit to the herbarium, in the cool basement of one of the buildings. Now I want to volunteer in the UC Santa Cruz herbarium more than ever!

Here are folders of plant pressings. Our friend volunteers in the herbarium, and pointed to a cabinet where one could enjoy the thrill of viewing original type specimens some from the early 19th century and maybe before. Type specimens are the first examples recorded of a particular species -- by European botanists that is. I think the cabinet was locked, for safe keeping.

This was one of the stunning views of the Santa Ynez mountains behind Santa Barbara, with the beautiful stones in the foreground looking like they just tumbled down and landed there. But I bet they were artfully arranged!

Our friend told us many stories as we went along. I only wish I could remember them all. She also chatted with many staff members and fellow volunteers along the way, so we were able to meet some of the folk responsible for this stunning garden.

If you want to see more photos from our trip to the botanic garden, click here to view my Flickr album.

I would love to see the gardens unfurl their splendors in spring. If you get a chance - definitely go! If you do - please send me a link to your photos!


Diana Studer said…
can the rare and endangered plants be replaced?
Town Mouse said…
Ah, that certainly brings back memories! I loved that Garden. Did you have the amazing view of the ocean as well from up there? So glad you shared your pictures!
Ed Morrow said…

Very interesting - been there a couple of times. I didn't know about the fire. It's not mentioned when you go there. Great pictures - makes me want to go down there and take a look for myself.

The meadow must be a challenge. Meadows seem to be all the rage these days. Have you seen Rainer and West's "Planting In A Post-Wild World"? The book is a "why" and "how to" guide for the "New Perennial" movement in landscapes. It's not difficult to see how their ideas would work out in the wetter precincts of the U.S., but it's harder to envision how their ideas would play out in our summer dry environment.

Does the SBBG irrigate the meadow? Do they have crews of volunteers come out and make all the withdrawals from the seed bank? It will be interesting to see what SBBG's meadow will look like in the summer a year or two from now.