Wedding Gardens

So you’re going to tie the knot. Cupid has done his work and now yours begins. Where to start on the long list of items needed to make the day as special as your dreams? Santa Barbara is probably home to more outdoor weddings than just about any place (Hawaii might boast more). A garden wedding may seem like a simple enough thing, but finding just the right spot and making it a corner of paradise can take as much planning as any other part of the day.

Let’s start with finding the spot. Santa Barbara boasts some of the best parks and beaches anywhere and most can be made to suit your nuptials. Favorite spots include the last group space to the west of Leadbetter Beach’s parking area. This patch of lawn has fine views of the waves and islands with a comfortable surface for chairs, tables, and the like. You can class it up by renting lots of fancy linens and arches or go surf style and use the built-in barbecues for your wedding dinner. Whichever way you go, you must reserve the space well in advance through the city Parks and Recreation Department. Other Parks and Rec venues include the grassy knoll near the western entrance to Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens. The fabulous plantings in this park are a perfect backdrop to just about any color scheme you may be planning. Again, for peak weekend use, you will have to call as soon as you have your date in mind and hope that no one has beaten you to the punch. City parks such as Shoreline Park, Tucker’s Grove, the A. C. Postel Memorial Rose Garden, and Alameda Park, even Parma Park for the heartier crowd, can provide beautiful outdoor settings for your special day.

Visit for more information. Goleta’s Stowe Park is another favorite. Want to get married at the zoo? It might seem a strange venue on first glance, but the lovely lawn at the highest point on the property has a bird’s-eye view of the coast and islands beyond. The zoo staffers are old hands at facilitating your group, however big it may be, and the kids (of all ages) will enjoy the wildlife while you and your party attend to the legal and solemn details of the ceremony. The Music Academy of the West is another elegant choice for your service. Its serene gardens are available most of the year.

Public places do have their drawbacks. There’s no guarantee that the area right next to you won’t have a reunion of beer-swilling oil-rig roughnecks or a birthday party attended by 20 or so 8-year-old boys going on at the same time as your event. If you can find a suitable home garden among your friends and relations, your wedding will be more relaxed and private than any public place could afford. Of course, imposing on a friend means that he or she will feel compelled to whip their garden into shape. Now is a good time (whether you’re hosting a wedding or not) to begin that process. Start with the bones of the garden: Trees, hedges, and other “foundation” plantings may need some renovation. By the end of the month, almost everything in the garden will be poised to burst with new life. Corrective pruning and shaping now will be invisible in just a few short months. Only the sleeker, more balanced, or shapely shrubs and trees, now clothed in fresh green foliage, will attest to your current efforts. You may want to get professional help at this stage, to deal with the big cuts or just the possibly overwhelming task of hauling away the excess clippings. Lawns, too, need to be lush and full to withstand the traffic of wedding guests. Aerate now, spread gypsum to keep soil open and earthworms happy and use corn gluten to banish weeds that will be germinating soon. If you want to sow warm-season grass seed, wait another month and follow recommendations on the package. Now that the background is in hand, you can turn to planting. Tuck in perennials and annuals (preferably in the bride’s chosen color scheme) that will be in bloom on the big day. Consult Sunset’s Western Garden Book for information on just when a particular plant may be expected to flower. The book also has lots of lists of plants grouped according to flower color and the type of site in the garden where they will thrive. Your advance planning in the next month or two will ensure that your garden will be picture-perfect for that important date. Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to

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