A week ago, my husband and I took a stroll through our past, visiting the campus of Westmont College in Montecito, California, where we met 28 years ago.

What is special about this place is not only the memories, but the beautiful gardens that surround it.

Last week, I introduced you to the converted mansion, the courtyard with its iconic fountain, the ocean view from my dormitory window and a glimpse of a beautiful flower garden.

Today, I would like to show you the small chapel, hidden among the trees, a beautiful pond, an area burned by wildfire and a garden filled with bird-of-paradise.


This small chapel sits underneath the canopy of large oak trees.



I have always loved oak trees because I grew up in Southern California where the hills are dotted with with these magnificent trees.  



The chapel was built in the 1960’s to honor the memory of the then college president’s daughter who died tragically in an auto accident while attending college here.



Students can often be found spending a few moments in prayer here and I did my share, while attending.



Regular chapel services aren’t held here, but they do host weddings at the chapel.


I just love the view of oak trees from the windows, don’t you?

As you walk away from the chapel, you are greeted by the sound of water.


 I like the simplicity of the water fountain in the form of am earthen jug, which does not compete with the surrounding, lush plantings.
The Weeping Mulberry, while leafless in winter, adds a graceful, drooping element to the water.

Believe it or not, Weeping Mulberry is also grown in Arizona.  There is a large one at my other alma mater, Arizona State University.


As we left the chapel and its pond, the path led into a truly beautiful garden…


This was the favorite part of the landscape surrounding the college.

Boxwood hedges enclosed rectangular areas of lawn that were surrounded by staggered plantings of Tropical Bird-of-Paradise (Strelitzia reginae). 

The bright orange and blue color of this tropical plant are quite familiar to me.  They are the official city flower of Los Angeles, California where I was born.  

Tropical Bird-of-Paradise is native to South Africa, but thrives in warm climates all over the world.  Sensitive to frost, it is hardy to zone 9 and does grow in the low desert, when protected from afternoon sun.  However, it does not grow as well in desert locations as it does in milder areas such as Southern California.


Even unopened, I think that the flowers resemble birds.


It was somewhat surreal to be walking through a garden in full bloom at the end of December when most of the nation was blanketed in ice and snow.

Tropical Bird-of-Paradise bloom in winter and spring.


While I love this flower, I don’t grow them in my desert garden.  The reason for this is that they can struggle in our extreme heat and cold winters.  It is a rare occurrence when I see one that is thriving and blooming in our low-desert climate.


As we walked through the garden, we heard the sound of running water, but could not see where it was coming from.

So, we headed up the stairs toward the sound.


The sound led us to a narrow, stone-lined trench, filled with water.

As you can see, the fountain part is subtle and understated.  Its main purpose is to lend the sound of water to the garden setting.

As we continued our journey, we came to an area that is still struggling to recover after a wildfire burned parts of the school grounds in 2008.

A lone oak tree is the only survivor in this large, formerly treed area.  


As you can see, there used to be a lot of trees.  

There were signs that construction was soon to take place, so it will be nice to see what they will do with this area.

Our walking tour was almost over and I admit that I was doing a bit of huffing and puffing while walking up and down the mountainside where our college is situated.  It was much easier to walk up and down when I was a 19-year old student 😉

Before we leave, I’d like to show you where my husband and I met, by our old dormitory 28 years ago…


Our dormitory was divided into men and women’s sections.  It was connected by a bridge and you would often find us taking turns walking over to visit the other…


Our stroll through memory lane was almost over and I was sad to go.

Years after I left Westmont College, I finished my degree in horticulture.  As a new horticulturist, I was given the task of re-designing the landscape around a golf-course country club building.  
There is a popular saying with young women at the school, “I went to Westmont and came away with my ‘MRS’ degree.”  

While I did not get my bachelor’s degree from Westmont, I did meet my husband there and become ‘Mrs.’ Johnson.

Thank you for allowing me to share memories and the beauty of the gardens of this special place.





Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a horticulturist, certified arborist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."

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