Santa Barbara Garden Tour

To preview other Botanic Gardens in the West, go here.

Alice Keck Park vista Santa Barbara
A vista of the older, central part of the Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden . Low water usage is not the dominant theme of this area.

If your summer includes a trip to Southern California, consider visiting the many gardens in the resort town of Santa Barbara. While there are beautiful gardens everywhere in the city, here are four extraordinary gardens to visit and enjoy.

A couple of decades ago after a very severe, prolonged drought in Santa Barbara, their Parks Department converted a large part of the Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden to a low-water usage botanical demonstration garden. The Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden is appropriately located at Garden and Arrellaga streets in Santa Barbara and there are plenty of places to simply sit and enjoy the beauty of the surroundings. There is no entry fee at this public park.

Alice Keck Garden dry creek bed
The photo shows drought-tolerant fescue lining a decomposed granite path leading to a rocky dry creek bed.

In the outer sections of the garden the emphasis is on drought-tolerant plantings. You will see beautiful examples of flower borders and dry creek beds, as well as plants to use in dry shady areas.

Dry shade is one of the most challenging environments for low-water usage gardens because plants that like shade usually like lots of water. You will find several examples of solutions to this gardening problem.

As you make your way from the Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, you will pass by the Santa Barbara Mission Rose Garden.

Santa Barbara Mission church
The rose gardens at the Santa Barbara Mission are definitely worth a visit.

It is definitely not low water usage, but the roses are especially beautiful in early summer.  If you are a rose lover, this garden is worth a stop.  There is no entry fee to see the gardens, but there is an entry fee to tour the Mission.

The route to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden from the Mission Rose garden is well marked.  Just follow the signs up Mission Canyon.  This 80+ acre botanic garden is devoted to native plants of all regions of California and you can preview the Botanic Garden on this website.

Near the entrance, there is a small area devoted to plants of the  Great Basin, Mojave, and Sonora deserts.  But because the goal of this botanic garden is to show examples from all ecosystems in California, their desert garden is modest in size. To see more of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, including the redwood grove and spring meadow, go here.

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Santa Barbara adobe bricks
The Old Presidio has been restored using authentic local adobe bricks.

As you make your way back down into the city on Garden Street, you will see the restoration of the old Presidio of Santa Barbara in progress. No garden to note, but an excellent glimpse into the original European settlement of the city. The Santa Barbara Historic Society is a block away on Garden. The photo, left, shows a stack of adobe bricks for use in the rebuilding.

 You will have to call ahead and make reservations  to visit the Lotusland, the amazing garden of opera singer Ganna Walska in the Montecito area of Santa Barbara.  The two daily tours of the garden are lead by docents and there is a fee. Demand for the tours–the only way to see the garden– is high so call well in advance.

On part of her estate Miss Walska created a traditional formal garden with high hedges, a rose walk and reflecting pool.  But it is her private plant collections that are astonishing!  If she liked a plant, she bought dozens of them no matter what the cost or rarity.  Palms, bromeliads, cycads, aloes, a blue garden, a water garden, a Japanese garden, an Australian garden, topiaries — they all reflect her personal gardening passions and they will take your breath away.

To preview other Botanic Gardens in the West, go here.

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