Faced with California’s ongoing drought, Santa Barbara residents have complied admirably with the water conservation guidelines established by the city government. One of the water-saving techniques adopted by residents is the inclusion of drought-resistant landscaping in their gardens. Homeowners throughout the city are replacing non-native plants and large expanses of grass with more water-efficient yard designs. Landscape components and irrigation systems sanctioned by the City of Santa Barbara are also eligible for rebates, which further encourages residents to help the city meet its water conservation goals.
Even as the city has decreased its water use, several lush public gardens are still thriving, thanks to responsible management practices. Here is a list of four beautiful gardens where Santa Barbara residents and visitors can take a relaxing stroll, admire unique plants and flowers, and take home some ideas for their own yards.
1. Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
Established 90 years ago, this 78-acre expanse of land conserves the native plants of California for future generations. Backed by the Santa Ynez Mountains, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden allows visitors to explore flower-lined pathways leading to sites such as the Blaksley Boulder, an enormous sandstone rock flanked by trees that marks the center of the garden.
Along with its colorful flowers, succulents, and shrubs, the garden also provides guests with the opportunity to observe historical architecture in the form of the Mission Dam and Aqueduct, a structure designed by Franciscan padres and built by local Chumash Native Americans more than 200 years ago. In recent years, the structure has been designated as a historic landmark by the state of California.
In the wake of 2009’s Jesusita Fire, a significant portion of the garden’s eastern trails were burned. However, nature’s resilience has allowed much of the local plant life to flourish again, and stunning views of the Channel Islands can now be seen through the young plants from the garden’s Porter Trail.
While the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden serves as a testimony to the beauty of California’s indigenous plant species, Lotusland celebrates the exotic flora from gardens around the world. Originally functioning as the estate of famous opera singer Madame Ganna Walska, Lotusland is now a public garden that is home to more than 3,000 types of plants.
On the 37 acres of grounds at Lotusland are gardens representing several landscape design styles, regions of the world, and types of plants. An Australian garden features a grove of eucalyptus trees, while a Japanese garden hosts koi fish ponds, Japanese maple trees, and pine trees sculpted in the niwaki style. Additional types of gardens on the premises include butterfly, topiary, and water gardens, the latter of which is home to the establishment’s renowned Asian lotus and water lily display.
Due to Lotusland’s location in a private neighborhood, those who wish to visit the gardens must make reservations. Paths throughout the grounds are wheelchair-friendly and guests of all ages are welcome on tours.
3. Casa del Herrero
Located on another former estate, the gardens of Casa del Herrero take visitors back to a time referred to colloquially as the “Golden Age of American Gardens.” During this period between the late 19th and mid-20th century, wealthy estate owners expressed their artistic tastes through the creation of expansive gardens surrounding their homes.
The house itself was designed by George Washington Smith, an architect known for employing the Spanish Colonial Revival style in his designs. Before reaching the gardens, guests can view the hand-painted alcora tiles, intricate wood carving, and decorative ironwork that decorate the home’s interior. Outside, visitors can see the extension of Casa del Herrero’s colorful architecture in the garden’s patios and seating.
The main path leads visitors through areas of greenery punctuated by tiled pools and fountains, with secondary trails leading away toward outdoor rooms designed for relaxation. Combining elements of Spanish, Moorish, and European design, the gardens feature a number of native California plants alongside rose bushes, citrus trees, and a variety of multi-colored wildflowers. Additionally, the grounds encompass the Arizona Gardens, which are devoted to cacti and desert succulents.
4. Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden
Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden was built and named in the honor of its benefactress. Located near downtown Santa Barbara, this garden is unique among the others in its provisions for self-guided tours. Pamphlets provided at a kiosk near the entrance record numbered names of plant species, with a corresponding map contained within the booklet. This allows visitors to learn about the plant life they are observing at their own pace.
At the garden’s center is a gazebo that overlooks a pond filled with koi fish and turtles, located near a shaded path that leads to a sundial. Benches line the winding trails and allow visitors a place to sit and enjoy the scenery, while pockets of grass serve as an ideal setting for picnics.
The most recently developed feature on the grounds is the sensory garden, which contains a collection of plant life that is visually dynamic and distinctly tactile. Other plants with intense fragrances also grow in this area of the garden, and talking signs dictate information about the surrounding plant life so that visually impaired visitors can learn about the landscape.
The Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden is open daily from eight in the morning until sunset, and admission is free. Additional special sections of the 4.6 acre-garden include a butterfly garden and a low water-use demonstration garden.