Friday, May 31, 2013

Mimi Under the Jacarandas

Purple blossoms rain on Santa Barbara this time of year.  I've been touring the parks and gardens of the city this past month, but truth be told, the whole city is one big garden when the Jacaranda trees begin to bloom.  Mimi is a mess, but she doesn't mind.  "Since you never buy floral prints, I'll just make my own," she told me.

These beautiful trees, native to Central and South America, line our streets.  When the blossoms begin to fall, the ground is paved in purple.  It's truly enchanting!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Stroll Through Alice Keck Park

In honor of Public Gardens Appreciation Month, I wrap up my Santa Barbara Garden Tour with a visit to Alice Keck Park.  Located in downtown Santa Barbara, it is a small, densely packed demo garden of low water usage plants.  I have taken many of their ideas home with me over the years--planting masses of Pride of Madeira and lavender in my front lawn; Dusty Miller and Rock Roses along the side of the house.  I needed more ideas for my back yard, so I picked up their plant list, a valuable guide listing both botanical and common names of plants, type, water use, flower color and needed sun exposure.  Oh, boy!  Another project.
But what continues to astound me when I revisit a destination (and I've been here dozens of times!) is the discovery of something new.  I have walked through the Sensory Garden many times, but never realized it was specifically designed for the visually impaired.  The paths under my feet changed texture as I walked, from stone to dirt to wooden planks.  Every few yards or so is an audio post, ten in all.  The voice describes the plants.  Many of them are fragrant and extremely tactile.  Touching is encouraged.  There are sounds to be acknowledged--the trickle of water, the rustling of leaves or the song of a distant bird.  What a wonderful activity for parents with children.  How my boys would have loved to be blindfolded and gently pushed from one audio post to the next.  
 Because of this blog, I've found myself becoming a more observant person.  Documenting the world through a camera lens and then writing about it, has taught me to see more closely.  Yes, I love traveling to foreign countries, but the tours I've been taking around the city I've lived in for 25 years now, has made me realize how little I really SEE.  Returning to a destination again and again will always be a rewarding experience.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Picnic Among the Boulders

We see it in the distance:  a boulder field in the sky.  We need a respite from people, cars and the never ending noise of life lived on the freeway.  Yes, let us picnic among the boulders with a falcon at our feet.  Breathe unpolluted air.  Sit in silence among the ruins of nature.
We scramble up the rocks with bottles of iced tea and tortillas filled with salami, olives and cheese.  We find a cave.  Can this be the sanctuary I am seeking?

"Don't look too closely," my travel buddy advises.   But it is too late.  I see the sordid evidence of teenage trysts and a drunken party spun out of control.  I climb back down.  
 My sanctuary is the van.  The weight of civilization crushes me like the boulders above.  I don't know why I feel this way today.  I have always been able to sift beauty through the grit.  

I eat alone.

There is no magic in the world.  Only illusion.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Two Historic Gardens in Montecito

While my travel buddy was windsurfing on Lake Isabella last week, I stayed home and played tourist in my own backyard.  I continued to tour the gardens of Santa Barbara and decided to splurge and sign up for tours of Lotusland and Casa del Herrero.  These magnificent properties are located in Montecito, the exclusive end of Santa Barbara where movie moguls and heiresses live in private worlds hidden behind tall hedges.  Secrets are guarded in 93108.  Photography is frowned upon.  I took hundreds of pictures, but I will abide by their requests and keep them hidden in private folders.  Trust me, dear reader, these places are to die for!  Check out their official websites.  Call for a tour if you are in the area.   You will not be disappointed.

Casa del Herrero

This tour is divided into two parts:  the gardens and the house.   We passed the above gate into a world of beauty:  eleven acres of garden rooms, orchards, and a dragon tree forest.  George Steedman, the owner of the property, was a true Renaissance Man.  Because he was wealthy, he was able to afford the very best; he demanded perfection.  The Spanish gardens tumble down the back of the house in a series of courtyards.  They are punctuated with Moorish tiles, fountains and furniture Steedman designed himself.  It is all reminiscent of the Alhambra.

The house, of course, was designed by the great George Washington Smith.  Inside you walk among art and antiques from 15th century Spain.  Again, it is the tile work that makes this property so unique and beautiful. We were reminded several times that Casa Del Herrero, which means House of the Blacksmith, is on the National Register of Historic Places.


If, however, you have time for only one tour, go to Lotusland.   This is a magical world and I guarantee you have seen nothing like it.  Dr. Seuss was mentioned many times by our group during the course of the two hour tour.  The creative mind of  Ganna Walska conjured up a maze of cacti and aloes,  a pool surrounded with abalone shells, fountains built with giant clam shells.  The paths are lined in broken glass.  There are giant topiaries and an army of little garden "grotesques".   There are lemon tree arbors and the most beautiful rose garden I have ever seen.  A Japanese garden.  Rare cycads that are actually protected by world treaties.  Madam Walska sold her precious jewelry in order to buy these stunning plants.  Botanists come from all over the world to see them.  

The list of wonders goes on and on.  Madam Walska believed in mass plantings.  It is what makes the garden so special and so surreal.  I love bromeliads and here there were thousands upon thousands of them,  all planted together to create a field of spiky greens.   I am very tempted to add Lotusland to My Most Beautiful Places on Earth list (but I would have to get permission to publish my photographs.)  It meets all my criteria.  My mouth flew open in amazement whenever I turned a corner.  I did not want to leave.  I want to sneak back in with a blanket and sleep under the giant olive trees.  I want to eat among the butterflies and dance with the bees.  Forever and ever.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Santa Barbara's Botanic Garden

Did you know that May is Public Gardens Appreciation Month?  Makes sense.  Winter is over.  Flowers are in bloom.  Wanderlust is kicking in.  Where better than to start your summer travels than in your own backyard?  So that is exactly what I am doing this week:  Touring the public gardens of my own city, Santa Barbara.

I begin with the wild and rugged garden just up the street.  The Botanic Garden is near and dear to me.  I have taken many out of town guests up here over the years.   My boys attended Nature Camp here during the summer.  The last time I visited, however, was three years ago when my travel buddy and I walked the dry, scorched trails after the terrifying Jesusita fire.  Half the garden had burned and many trails were closed.  It was heartbreaking.  Happily, it has rejuvenated and is beautiful, green and lush.  There were groups of garden enthusiasts walking along with cameras and tripods in tow.  Japanese, French, German were all languages I overheard.  Yeah!  The tourists are back.  And I am one of them.

The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is located at 1212 Mission Canyon Road and is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. (depending on the season)  Allow a good 2-3 hours for your visit.  There is a lot of territory to cover.  The 65 acres are divided into sections:  Arroyo, Canyon, Desert, Manzanita, Meadow and Redwood.  There is also a slice of mission history here.  The lovely remains of the old Mission Dam are half-hidden among the trees.  The dam was built by the padres out of protruding sandstone bedrock, so strong that it was never damaged in an earthquake.   Because of the the higher elevation gravity helped move the water down to the mission grounds via two aqueducts.   

This filter box, along with an intake box on the face of the dam, were built in the 1800's in order to remove sediments from the water.  The cleaner water then flowed down to the reservoir.
The desert section is the oldest part of the gardens.  I walked quickly through, having spent so much time in Death Valley last month, I have had my fill of deserts for awhile.  The redwood grove was the day's Numero Uno destination. To me, this is the most magical section of the garden and always has been.  It is cool and serene no matter how hot the temperature.  This is the place of fantasy.  Where fairies live among the ferns and Tree Beard lurks above me.

The entire garden is devoted to native California flora.  Research programs include the inventory and monitoring of plants.  Constant threats need to be addressed; solutions need to be found.  In the Meadow Section, I learned that  fourteen percent of our state used to be covered with grasslands.  Today, it is less than one.  Overgrazing, housing developments and the introduction of foreign weeds are all taking its toll on the land.  The Botanic Garden supplies native grasses for local revegetation and provides information to professional and home gardeners on cultivation.   That $8.00 entrance fee helps fund these very important projects.
This is a garden for both the young and the old.  The Discovery Garden provides an educational platform for students.  There are wonderful exhibits on woodpeckers, bees and ecology.   Although there are many steps and steep hills to climb, the meadow and desert areas are flat, and there are benches in picturesque settings throughout.  A gift shop and retail nursery makes shopping for a souvenir a delightful way to end your visit. 

I don't think of myself as old, but I admit I sat on a bench under one of those massive redwoods for a whole hour, writing in my journal and daydreaming about all the places I have been and places I have yet to see.  The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is so close to my house and so pleasant,  why had it taken me three years to return?