Native plants have become increasingly popular choices for the landscape due to the fact that they not only survive, but thrive with little fuss.

On a visit to California last month, our family decided to spend a morning exploring the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden.
The city of Santa Barbara has always held a special place in my heart.  When I was a child, my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents lived in Santa Barbara.  We only an hour away, so we made many trips there throughout the year for family gatherings, including Christmas.

Aside from being a special place where I spent many happy times as a child, I also fell in love with Santa Barbara.  I attended a small Christian college called Westmont, which is located in the hills above Santa Barbara, where I met my husband.  So, it’s not surprising that we often find our way to this picturesque city whenever we can.

We were visiting our daughter, who is stationed with the Navy a short distance away and we had come out to spend a long weekend with her.  Her service with the Navy is due to end soon so we wanted to take advantage of spending time in Santa Barbara.  The decision to go to the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden was an easy one.  Surprisingly, I had never been there before and wanted to experience its beauty.

Anyone who has visited gardens with me knows that I am always lagging behind as I observe the beauty of plants close up and pause to take a lot of photos.  I just tell them to walk on ahead as I do my best to keep within visual range of them.

The first part of this garden consisted of open meadows planted with native wildflowers.  Being that it was January, most weren’t flowering yet, but it was easy to imagine how beautiful they would look in just a month or two.

Looking off in the distance, you could see the ocean and the Channel Islands.
One of the things that are unique about this garden is that they only grow California native plants.

‘Arroyo Cascade’ Manzanita

Santa Barbara has been hit very hard by drought several times in recent years and as a result, residents are looking for drought-tolerant alternatives.

Erigeron divergens

Botanical gardens who feature native plants serve as inspiration for homeowners, landscape architects and designers to help them create landscapes with plants that thrive in the local climate with no little to no fuss.

My family waiting patiently for me to catch up.

In addition to wanting to learn more about California native plants, I was also looking forward to exploring the California landscape that I grew up in with its graceful oak trees and stately redwood trees.

The garden trails are winding and go up and down hillsides.  It often felt like we were on a camping trip while hiking through the mountains.

At first, the trail is level, but then you are faced with steep steps, called the Indian Steps.  This steep trail is thought to be the trail taken by the Indians who built the dam that is located farther in the garden. 

We had brought a stroller for my one-year-old grandson but soon learned that it wouldn’t make it down the steps with him in it, so I carried him down the steps with his mom following with the stroller.

At the base of the steps, we were greeted by the sight of tall coast redwoods, shading the pathway.

As much as I love oak trees, as a California native, visiting redwood forests scattered throughout the state has always been a special treat.

The sheer size, age, and beauty of redwood trees are truly majestic, especially when you realize how small you are when you stand next to one.

As we journeyed on, I was excited to see the old dam, which was built by the Indians to funnel water down the mountain toward the historic Santa Barbara Mission.

The redwood trees weren’t the only large things in the garden – the boulders were very big too.

The Mission Dam and Aqueduct were built in 1807 to help direct water toward the mission.

This old aqueduct had to be cleaned out frequently to keep debris out so that the water could flow freely.

As we continued our journey through the garden, I must tell you that it was a beautiful, sunny day in the upper 60’s.

I took a moment to take a photo of my daughter and grandson in front of a fallen tree.  As you can see, my grandson is having a great time!

So were my husband and I.

Eventually, our path took us to a ‘fork’ in the road where we had a decision to make – walk further on and take the bridge back to the entrance or walk across the marked creek crossing.

When you are with a 13 year-old boy, there is no question about which way you will choose.

I was especially excited to see the Home Demonstration Garden section, which showcased ways to use California natives in a residential landscape.

The house was built onsite in 1926 from a Sears Roebuck kit.  It now houses the offices of the garden.

There were nicely designed garden beds filled with California natives, clearly marked.

It was easy to envision seeing oneself landscaping their house in natives that are equally as beautiful as the more flashy non-natives. 

Newly planted landscape beds.

After seeing a wonderful example of a residential garden planted solely with natives, it got me to thinking again why so many people in the desert southwest coddle gardenias, hibiscus, and even queen palms in order to get them to do well in our hot, dry climate where they struggle.

As I walked around to the back of the house, I found my husband.

I did tell you that I always lag behind whenever I visit gardens, didn’t I?

My husband is always so patient and doesn’t complain.  I always keep this in mind when he gets excited about looking at cars and motorcycles.

At the end of our tour through the garden, the fun was just beginning for me because they have a nursery filled with California natives grown on site.

My camera and I went on an expedition, exploring the different natives.

Like many desert natives, these California natives aren’t very exciting in their containers, which can sometimes cause shoppers to skip them in favor for high-maintenance, flashy non-natives.

Erigeron cultivar ‘Wayne Roderick’

But, once planted and given a little time to grow, they put on a show.

I was drawn to the different colored California poppy seedlings, ready for planting in the spring wildflower garden.  I would have bought a white and pink variety, but have some already planted in my garden.

There were a number of California native plants that are also native to Arizona including desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata) and globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua).

If you ever find yourself in Santa Barbara, I strongly recommend that you take an hour or two to explore the garden.  It is a wonderful walk through the California countryside filled with the beauty of native plants.

I came away with three California native plants that I am unfamiliar with.  Since many aspects of our climate are similar, I am wanting to see how they perform in my garden.  The biggest test will be how they handle the summer heat.  My hope is that they will be fuss free and beautiful.  

I’ll be sure to let you know how they do. 

**If you love to grow and cook fresh vegetables there is still time to enter the free giveaway for the fabulous book, Growing For Flavor.**