December 28, 2015

Photo Essay: The Native Groves of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

I have such a different batch of friends out here in California than I did back in New York, when I was closer to college friends and entrenched in the music industry.

Out here, we all seem to be docents...or naturalists...or historians...or photographers / writers / directors / actors...or all of the above, and other sorts of multi-hyphenates.

This is the land of kindred spirits.

Of course, you can't always find each other, if you're driving the freeways inside your little bubble, visiting libraries and museums and historic sites on your own, like I do.

Fortunately, my trip to Santa Rosa Island gave me the opportunity to add a couple more likeminded California folks to my arsenal—and whereas on the East Coast, you would promise to hang out and then would never see each other again, we've already bucked the trend. A couple of weeks ago, I drove a couple of hours up to Santa Barbara to hang out with a couple of my fellow Channel Islands volunteers.

One of them happens to be a new docent at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, and he invited us to come take his tour.

It's not the biggest botanic garden I've ever visited, nor the most ornamental, but it's really scenic—from the meadow (where the wildflowers grow in the spring and visitors hold private events)... the boulders that have rolled all the way down from the nearby mountains (including the garden's centerpiece, the Blaksley Boulder).

The focus here in Santa Barbara is making it a native garden...

...taking you on a journey through California (like with the silver-branched Aesculus californica) rather than around the world.

This of course, means a quick jaunt through the desert...

...featuring plants so drought-tolerant, they may appear dead—but they're sure to resurrect with some water.

There's plenty of life here at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, even on the precipice of winter.

One of its most remarkable features is the Redwood Forest...

...where you can amble under the shade of towering sequoias (native to Northern California)—the oldest one dating back to 1926.

They were planted along the path of the Mission Creek, so named because it provided a water source for the Santa Barbara mission, about a mile and a half downstream, via an aqueduct.

The Mission Dam on the creek is a real marvel. The Franciscan padres used a Chumash Indian labor force to build it in the early 1800s, and although it's no longer being actively used as a dam, this historic landmark is still standing with no modern reinforcements.

There are other stone ruins of the aqueduct farther downstream from the dam...

...and a preserved portion of the zanja which carried water down to the padres at the mission.

Not everything at the garden has survived nearly as well as the dam—like the 1941 Campbell Bridge that crosses the creek, which had been rebuilt in 1988 and then destroyed by the Jesusita Fire in 2009.

The fire scorched a good portion of the gardens plants and trees...

...but most of them were able to rebound within a year or two...

...and come back more lush and greener than ever—such is the fate of California natives constantly subjected to wildfire conditions.

Also thriving at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden are a variety of oaks—the common coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia, or encinos), as well as scrub oaks, the deciduous California Black Oak, and the exceedingly uncommon (and evergreen) island oak, generally found elsewhere only on the Channel Islands.

Just be sure to stay away from the poison oak when you visit. Although, conveniently, the garden also features the natural antidote plant to poison oak, mugwort, which frequently grows right next to it.

Thanks to Alan for the lovely interpretive walk!

Related Posts:
More Than Apples: Oak Glen's Native Garden
Photo Essay: Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, UCLA
Photo Essay: Los Angeles Arboretum

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