Twig art

Toad Hall rises in Santa Barbara

Set against a mountain backdrop at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, a two-story domed structure woven out of willow branches rises beyond a wildflower meadow.

If you ever spent a childhood afternoon constructing a fort out of a backyard's found materials―cardboard boxes, crates, or downed branches and twigs―this structure will come as a vision of what you dreamed your improvised creation might be. No mere hut, it combines a hint of Taj Mahal-style grandeur with a Wind in the Willows whimsy.

In honor of that childhood classic, the structure's creator, Patrick Dougherty, dubbed it Toad Hall. The North Carolina artist has created more than 175 installations worldwide, but this is his first on California's Central Coast. It will remain up for about two years. Spend some time studying its interlocking and twisting branches. Watch kids running through its doors and chambers―and try to imagine their imaginings. ―Matthew Jaffe

INFO: The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden ($7; 1212 Mission Canyon Rd.; 805/682-4726).