California quail perched on top of Artemisia Canyon Gray (photo provided by Santa Barbara Botanic Garden)

My colleague Kathy Brenzel, our sage Garden Editor and the doyenne of dahlias and dogwood, recently told me how much she loves the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, so I made a beeline there on a visit earlier this month.

I’ve been to Santa Barbara countless times and I’d never heard of the garden, which is tucked up Mission Canyon, a mile and a half or so above Mission Santa Barbara.

At the suggestion of a chatty ticket-taker, I headed right to the Redwood Forest and the Mission Dam. To get there, I had to walk past the garden’s signature Western Meadow, which unfortunately for me but fortunately for future visitors is currently bare. The soil is being “solarized” (sheeted with plastic and superheated) in an attempt to stem the infestation of weeds, which it turns out has been a problem in the Meadow since the 1930s. By next spring, the Meadow should once again run rampant with native wildflowers.

The Redwood Forest, which is really more of a small grove, is lovely with its carpet of redwood sorrel, ferns, and wild ginger. The nearby Mission Dam was built in 1807 to provide water for the Mission’s agricultural needs. It operated for more than 100 years and today serves as a bridge and, like the Mission itself, as a testament to the enduring power of adobe sandstone and mortar.

One of the other things I particularly liked at the SBBG was the Home Demonstration Garden, which showcases water-conserving plants and should be required viewing during the current statewide drought. The cottage here and its ground covers, oak trees, hedges, and flowers is a natural outgrowth of the SBBG focus on California native plants. That focus has fomented plans for a garden, to be opened by 2016 on the east side of Mission Canyon Road.

Do you have a favorite garden that is either undiscovered or under-visited?

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