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The third day of our road trip began in Santa Barbara – a place that we are both very familiar with.  However, our goal for this day was to do a combination of things; some which we had done before while also taking part in some new experiences.



The first outing on our itinerary was to visit the Santa Barbara Mission, which is also known as the “Queen of the California Missions.”

As you can see, it is quite large and very beautiful.  But, before entering the mission, the rose garden that lay across the street was in full bloom and was calling to me.  For those who have been reading this blog for a while, you have undoubtedly seen me writing about the rose garden.

The rose beds were encircled by large expanses of grass, where you can see dogs chasing after the balls, frisbees being thrown and picnic blankets set out.


In April, all the roses were at the peak bloom, and the air was perfumed with their fragrance.



This bed was created with three different roses with different heights.  
I’m sorry that I can’t tell you what each type of roses these are, because they weren’t labeled.



My mother liked the multi-colored roses best, like the Mardi Gras, pictured above.


After getting our fill with lovely roses, we walked up toward the mission.


The sounds of water from the Moorish Fountain along with the scents of the roses and the beauty of the mission building itself is the reason that I make a stop here every time I am in Santa Barbara.


The mission was built in 1786, and it is still a working church.  All of the 21 California Missions were built to help convert the native Americans to Christianity.  The history of these missions is well know to every child in California as it is an integral part of the state’s history.

For our visit today, we decided to take the self-guided tour.



This is the ‘lavanderia’, which was built in 1808 by the Chumash Indians of the Santa Barbara mission village.  It is the wash basin where the Indian women did the laundry.  The clothes were washed in the basin and then scrubbed and laid out to dry along the sloped sides.



At the end of the lavanderia is the head of a mountain lion that was carved by a Chumash Indian.  It is thought to the be the oldest, public stone sculpture in California.

A flowering Dasylirion quadrangulatum.

The interior courtyard was filled with areas of grass, majestic palm trees, flowering perennials and a smattering of succulents.


Walking through the courtyard garden, you experience a feeling of serenity and the stresses of the day just melted away – so what if I had to submit a lengthy magazine article in less than 24 hours to my editor?

The cemetery was filled with old graves from the late 1700’s all the way to the early 1900’s.  The Indian girl from the book, “Island of the Blue Dolphins”, who was found on the islands just off the coast of California, is buried on the mission grounds in an unmarked grave.



This shaded pathway ran along the side of the cemetery.


In the center of the grassy area, was a huge Moreton Bay fig tree from Australia, that was planted in 1890.

After leaving the outdoor areas, we walked through the church just as a wedding was almost ready to start. 

As we walked out, I was reminded about why I love to visit this special place.



Have you ever visited a California Mission?  There are 21 located along the California coast from San Diego to San Francisco.  I’ve seen several, and will visit a few others on this trip, which I’ll share with you.

Now for the second part of our day…




Casa del Herrero is an historic mansion located in Montecito, which is a small town located next to Santa Barbara.


This Spanish Colonial style home was built in 1925 and is still largely the same, indoors and outdoors making it a wonderful example of the style of the 1920’s period.

A purple trumpet vine crawls up the side of the front entry.



This was the home of the Steedman family who came from St. Louis.  They made the decision to build their second home in Santa Barbara (Montecito).  Mr. Steedman was a engineering graduate of Harvard and owned a munitions plant that was instrumental during WW I.


After retiring, he began silversmithing and working with other metals, earning him the name “the blacksmith”.  His workshop is filled with countless tools, meticulously arranged.  There areseveral of his inventions still in the workshop that he had patented.

Bright red geraniums hang from the window, peeking through the rejas (decorative iron work covering the window).




Tours of the estate are by reservation only and small groups are led by docents at a pre-arranged time.  The tour begins in the home where no photography is allowed.  Then it moves to the garden and finally the workshop.  As you can probably guess, I was mostly interested in seeing the garden.



Numerous examples of creative metal work could be seen both inside and outside the house.

The tour begins in the house.  Photographs were allowed outside but not indoors.  I did really like the windows, which were covered with decorative metal iron, which is characteristic of the Spanish Colonial Revival style.  Another feature of this style is that window aren’t symmetrical – they are asymmetrical and occur wherever a window is needed for light or to open up a view.


The style of Santa Barbara (and Montecito) is the Spanish Colonial Revival style and I was very excited to see some great architectural examples as well as in the landscape design.



This view from the downstairs of the house shows a brightly-colored Spanish tiles.  The refreshing sound of water made me yearn to go outside.


At this point, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the inside tour.



When it was time to go outdoors, I tried to stay toward the front, without being obnoxious so that I could get pictures of the garden without people turning up in them – I think that I mostly succeeded 😉

This slightly raised area is backed by a ‘foot fountain’ where you can cool off your feet in the  shallow basin – I’d love something like that in my garden, wouldn’t you?



In this area of the garden, plants with white blooms were added at the request of the owners.  They liked to take a strolls at night and without outdoor lights, could still see where they were walking due to the way white blooms appear to ‘glow’ at night.

White bearded iris
Calla (Arum) lilies

Here is the rose garden, which was filled with tree roses enclosed in sharply pruned boxwood shrubs. Not really my style, but they were nice.

This other section of the garden starts with a unique water feature.



As with all Spanish Colonial Revival design, there are Moorish influences as is shown with this eight-pointed star-shaped fountain.

From an upper window, you can see how the star fits into the larger landscape.  I loved this part of the garden as your eye looks beyond the star toward what lies beyond.



A grassy space lined with star jasmine, trained as shrubs lead toward another water fountain and a gate at the very end.

It is so fun discovering what lies beyond as you walk closer.

I don’t know about you, but I really want to know what lies beyond the little gate.



Standing at the gate, you see an area that has been allowed to remain natural except for the Spanish tiled structure.  Evidently, the grandchildren of the originally owners would have campouts in this area and the servants would haul out cots, sheets and blankets for the kids.  I know that my kids would love to have done something like this.

Adding to the intrigue of this more natural area is a huge dragon tree (Dracaena draco), which adds intrigue and interest to this area.



Semi-circular steps lead you back up toward to the back of the house.

A shady seating area is covered with lovely tiles.  I think that this would be a really great option for a decorative patio.

Continuing toward the house, a narrow water feature runs down a few steps before draining into a basin covered in blue and yellow tiles.

Like most estates of the time, Casa del Herrero had a kitchen garden as well as an orchard.


Near the workshop, was a ‘runnel’, which ran along the wall.  This is another feature found in Spanish Colonial style.  They are often made from clay tiles and help channel rain water from the roof to a basin where it can be stored until needed – it’s like a Spanish version of a rain barrel.

We ended the garden part of the tour at the colorful potting bench of Mrs. Steedman.  It was covered in Spanish tiles and the bottom wooden portion was actually a ‘lazy Susan’ as it could be turned, revealing a shelf containing gardening implements.


The tour lasted exactly 90 minutes and was very educational and interesting.  I was inspired by many different elements in the gardens as well.

If you would like a chance to visit this special place, you can find out more information here.

After a busy day, we headed back up to my aunt’s house in Santa Barbara and had a lovely dinner with my aunt, uncle and cousin, who stopped by to see us.

All in all, a great day!

After spending a fun-filled morning in Ojai, exploring the secret Taft Gardens, we traveled north toward the small town of Los Olivos, which is located approximately 35 miles north of Santa Barbara.



On our way out Ojai, we sat at an intersection where the traffic light was visible between the branches of an old, oak tree.

I love that the value of the tree was taken into consideration, and it was allowed to stay. 

After leaving Ojai, our journey took us through picturesque, winding roads through the mountains, many of which, were dotted with avocado trees.

Some of the avocado groves were planted on very steep mountainsides.  I wouldn’t want to be the one to pick them – I’d probably fall down the mountain.


Los Olivos is located in the Santa Ynez Valley, near the Danish town of Solvang.  It is home to a large number of wineries along with famous celebrities who like the peace and privacy while being within a few hours drive of Hollywood.

Upon entering Los Olivos, we drove by the entrance to a very famous (or infamous) property.  


This is the entrance to ‘Neverland’, which is Michael Jackson’s former estate.  The last I heard, it was listed for sale for a mere $100 million dollars.  

We decided to pass on buying this property and drove onto the main street in Los Olivos.

Small restaurants, wine tasting rooms, stores offering olive oil tasting and a smattering of gift shops dot the main road.


While I was enjoying the wares for sale in the stores, my attention was drawn to the plants that decorated the main street.

Lavender trumpet vine (Clytostoma callistegioides) and white Iceberg roses

A large Lady Banks rose rests on a dead tree trunk.

Spanish lavender and white Iceberg roses

White Iceberg roses are frequently used throughout many areas in Southern California.  I’ve seen it in parking lots, along roadways, and by storefronts.  It’s easy to grow and resistant to pests and disease.


Before leaving Los Olivos, we had to stop by a nursery that my mother had visited numerous times.


The majority of the nursery was filled with a large variety of succulents, many of which, were combined with garden art elements including fairy gardens.

A variety of Echeveria adds a whimsical touch to this fairy house.

A combination of moss and succulents help create this fairy farm.
The fairy gardens were created by one person who was truly talented.  Most of the gardens were quite large and out of my price range, typically costing between $200 – 600.  But, at least I could appreciate them and take pictures 🙂

Spider Web Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum arachnoideum)

A plant rack made from metal pipes.

There was such a large selection of garden art that I was sorely tempted to buy something, but there were too many choices so I contented myself with taking pictures of those that I liked.  What’s even better, is that taking photos is free!


Blue is one of my favorite colors to add to the garden, and I often recommend to my clients to add pieces of garden art in vibrant shades of blue.  The reason for this is, is that blue creates dramatic color contrast, and there aren’t many plants that produce blue flowers.


This was my favorite fairy garden.  The whitewashed building reminded me of the homes on the Aran Islands, my husband I saw in Ireland.  I also enjoyed the geese hiding among the succulent plants.  It’s hard to tell from the photo, but the container that holds this miniature garden is at least two ft. wide.

After spending the afternoon in Los Olivos, it was time to travel south to Santa Barbara, which has been described as “America’s Riviera”.



Santa Barbara holds a special place in my life.  As a child, my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all lived in Santa Barbara, so I spent a lot of my childhood there.

It is also the place where I went to college and met my husband.  

We drove by the house that my grandparents used to live in.  Memories of this home include Christmases past and summer dinners in the backyard.

The late 1970’s


Today

I was happy that I was able to recognize the house right away, even after almost 40 years.


The end of our day was nearing, and we drove to my aunt’s house on the other side of Santa Barbara.  My uncle, who is an architect, built this house in 1976, and I have memories of visiting the work site and later spending weekends there with my cousin, who was the same age.

The house is perched on the side of the hill; that overlooks the ocean and the Channel Islands.


It was so nice to be able to step into a welcoming home with family and a home-cooked dinner instead of staying in a hotel that night.

Then it was time to sleep and prepare for our next day’s adventure, which would involve exploring Santa Barbara further, including a historic mansion and its gardens in nearby Montecito.
Thank you for taking time out of your day to come alongside us as we journey up the coast of California 🙂

When you envision a drought-tolerant landscape, does a landscape covered in colored gravel with a cactus or two come to mind?



Believe it or not, this type of landscape style was popular back in the 70’s and some people have never moved beyond this outdated trend.

Well, let us fast-forward to present day when a drought-tolerant landscape can look like this…


I drove by this beautiful landscape, filled with succulents and other drought-tolerant plants on a recent trip to Santa Barbara, CA.

I love the magenta-colored brachts of the Bougainvillea, the green spiky Spanish Bayonet Yucca (Yucca Aloifolia) along with the gray/blue of Century Plant (Agave americana).

The orange flowers of Aloe arborescens are also a favorite of mine.  I also like how the blue/gray leaves of the ‘Blue Chalk Sticks’ variety of Ice Plant (Senecio mandraliscae) provides a cool color contrast.  

You may be surprised to discover that this beautiful, drought-tolerant landscape is part of an entry to a large estate and that there is another side filled with drought-tolerant plants.


On this side, you can see Trailing Rosemary (Rosmarinus officials ‘Prostratus’) spilling over the front with Tropical Bird-of-Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) right behind.  

A low-growing pink Bougainvillea shows off its bright colors along with the spiky orange flowers of the Aloe nearby.

Look closely, and you can see the paddles of a Prickly Pear cactus (not sure what species) and the variegated spikes of Agave americana ‘Variegata’.


In this last view of this spectacular garden, we see a California Pepper tree (Schinus molle), which is quite familiar to Californians.  (We had these trees lining our neighborhood street where I grew up in Southern California.)  They are found in the low-desert areas of Arizona, but it is rare to see them.

In the background, you can see two very different types of palm trees.  The large one is a Canary Island Date Palm (Phoenix canariensis) while the skinny one is a Mexican Fan Palm (Washingtonia mexicana).

If you look closely, you can see the flowering stalk of an agave as well as the upright columns of a Cereus cactus.

To the left of the mailbox, there is a Jade plant growing, a flowering Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia millii), which I also have growing in my garden.

So, if you think that having a drought-tolerant landscape means looking like this…


It doesn’t!

The majority of plants in the lovely garden in California, can be grown in desert climates.

So, which drought-tolerant landscape would you prefer – a colorful one or one that is boring?
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.





Last weekend, our family loaded our suitcases into the car and headed out to Southern California to visit my second-oldest daughter, Rachele, who is stationed there at a Navy base.


I was excited to see Rachele, but also to visit that part of California since it is near where I grew up and also where I met my husband while attending college.


On Saturday morning, we left our younger kids with Rachele and ventured up into the hills outside of Santa Barbara in order to visit our college.



Westmont College is located on side of the mountains in the small town of Montecito.

Most people haven’t heard of Westmont.  It is a small Christian, liberal arts college with an enrollment of 1,200.


The college is set among beautiful gardens that echo the Spanish/Mediterranean style.


Believe it or not, I was not interested in the gardens or plants when I attended Westmont.  I was more focused on having fun, dating and passing my classes.  At the time, I was decidedly “undecided” in what I wanted to major in.




I spent 2 years at Westmont before I got married and moved to Arizona.


Now, whenever I am visiting Santa Barbara, I like to take time to visit the beautiful gardens of my former alma mater.


I’d love to take you on a little tour of my favorite spots and share some memories…




This is the main administration building, which used to be the mansion that stood on this estate.


This is where my husband and I met.  We both had part-time jobs in adjoining offices and I thought he was awfully cute and nice.

My favorite part of the building was the courtyard outside with its fountain.


I love the detail of the water fountain.


Years ago, I posed for this photo with my friend, Mary by the same fountain.

I love the look of stone finials, don’t you?


It may have been the end of December, but there were still blooms to be seen like this pink azalea and the hibiscus, below…


I couldn’t help but think of those whose gardens are frozen and/or covered in snow right now.  The Mediterranean climate is truly wonderful – this area rarely experiences temps below freezing.


An old bougainvillea grew up among the stair railing.


I can only imagine how old this bougainvillea is.


I love garden gates, don’t you?


Especially when you notice the detail.

While the converted mansion and its surroundings were beautiful, the college has its share of plain, boring dormitories.


This was my freshmen dorm where I lived on the third floor.  The dormitory looked much the same as when I attended except that there were video cameras and electronic door locks with card readers.

While the dorm wasn’t too impressive, the view from my room was…


I could see the ocean and the Channel Islands from my window.


Up above the dorm, on the mountainside was an old tea garden that was part of a large estate.  Students would climb up and explore the ruins.


As we left the dorm, we walked along the path lined with Simplicity roses toward a building where I must admit that I did NOT spend much time…




This is the large boulder located by the library.  Students could be found sitting on top studying or catching some rays.


There was a Chaparral Sage (Salvia clevelandii) flowering next to the boulder.  This shrub can be grown in the desert, if given some afternoon shade.


I hope you have enjoyed the tour so far.  


Next time, I will show you the small chapel nestled within the trees, a small pond, a stunning garden filled with flowers and the area that was burned in a large wildfire a couple of years ago.