Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
Santa Barbara, California
October 2010

This garden opened to the public as, Blakesley Botanic Garden, in 1929. It became the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden in 1939. The garden encompasses 78-acres, of which about 40 are developed. The collections concentrate on plants from California, northwestern Baja and southwestern Oregon, an area called the California Floristic Province. Plantings are mostly arranged by plant community so there’s a Chaparral Section, a Desert Section, a Meadow Section, and others. More than 1,000 taxa are represented at the garden. Major plant collections iinclude Ceanothus (California Lilac), Dudleya and Arctostaphylos (Manzanita).

Garden Entrance

My only previous visit to this garden was about twenty years ago. Since then it has suffered a number of major setbacks, including a devastating fire. Except for the glorious canyon setting, it now bears little resemblance to the garden I visited.

The fire didn’t destroy the nicely laid-out path system, or the view to the surrounding mountains.
Garden Path

I really liked a sculptural structure erected in a meadow. It has the feel of a Patrick Dougherty piece but I couldn’t find any attribution. The rough supporting posts and living roof make a great playhouse for kids and an interesting aesthetic element. I wish there had been some interpretive material associated with it to provide some context.

SBBG Structure

The garden has a large collection of
Dudleya, beautifully displayed in a trailside bed with boulders and companion plants.

SBBG Dudleya Garden

The genus
Dudleya is native to this area, so the plants are beautiful and healthy. Sadly it was the wrong season for flowering so none were in bloom.

SBBG Dudleya viscida

Most of the garden is a walk through a wooded canyon, following a creek. It is a beautiful canyon, with giant boulders and majestic oaks.

SBBG Canyon Trail

There are a couple of interpretive stations along the trail. A station on Native American basketry was very interesting, but the main sign was in poor condition and most of the plant labels for the display were missing.

Indian Basketry

From my previous visit I remember the forest opening up into glades featuring collections of interesting plants. This visit, the glades were mostly barren but for resprouting grasses. Fire must have taken a toll.

There is a very nice demonstration garden, showing the use of California natives in home landscaping. The plants are well-labeled and there are several interpretive signs, making this a valuable tool for the home gardener.

SBBG Demonstration Garden

I remember the garden having a great nursery, and although it too seems to have suffered from the fire, it is still a wonderful resource. It offers a great selection of well-labeled plants, all very nicely displayed.

SBBG Nursery

Although the garden is not the fantastic place I remember, it is still a beautiful spot. The canyon and the surrounding mountains are a treasure.
Hopefully, time will restore many of the plant displays. Community support seems strong. They are still a leader in plant conservation, active in the Center for Plant Conservation and holder of a national collection of the genus
Dudleya. I’ll trust that when I visit again in a few years, new leadership will have restored this garden to its former stature.

here to see more photos of Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.
here to visit the official website of Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

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