Botanic Garden Variety

Spring Comes Early In S.B.

barney%20flowers.jpgSpring Is Here? Well, technically not, but you’d think so by strolling around the magnificent Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Bright orange California poppies are popping up in the meadows and water is gushing over the 1807 dam that once provided water to the Mission.

The warm sun was bathing the 85-acre Botanic Garden in the foothills above the city when Sue and I wandered around on Monday. Red-tailed hawks were screaming above in the blue sky and turtles were sunning themselves on rocks in the little pools. To my mind, spring had sprung. I spotted a spread of California’s fast-disappearing native grasslands thriving in the Meadows Section.

One family was picnicking while another was wheeling a baby around on footpaths. The Santa Ynez Mountains loomed sharp and clear to the north. We followed the paved path downhill into the canyon, where redwoods shaded the underbrush. Signs warned us about walking off the path and tramping on the fragile soil over the roots. (Watch for poison oak.)

Aside from the cornucopia of a zillion kinds of native plants in the Garden and the grand old twisted oaks, the main attraction for me has always been the old dam. barney%20cliff.jpgMission fathers and Chumash workers built it to satisfy the thirst of the increased population and agricultural needs after the Mission was founded in 1786. Then the droughts of 1794-95 hit.

You can walk over the dam, treading on original fired red clay tiles. Mission Creek water gushes through the opening, easing its way along the boulders downhill. Originally, the dam was 110 feet across, 22 feet high, and 18 feet thick, according to the Botanic Garden. It was fashioned from lime mortar layered with river rocks.

From there, it followed a course one and a half miles down through an aqueduct to the Mission reservoir and then to the fountain in front of the Mission. barney%20lake.jpg Mission Dam is both a state and county historic landmark. You could spend hours wandering the trails or sitting on one of the benches tucked away here and there. But be sure to nose around the Garden Shop with many varieties of native plants and check out the gift shop. I came away with a butterfly feeder.

The Botanic Garden is open year-round: From March through October, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; from November through February, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults; $6 for seniors, military, college students, and teens; $4 for children 2-12. Kids younger than that are free. On the weekend, MTD bus line No. 22 runs to the front gate. For info call 682-4726 or visit

Correction: In my February 13 online column, a subhead (written by someone else) read: “Cappello gets sued.” Actually, as I wrote later in the column, Barry Cappello, representing News-Press owner Wendy McCaw, was mentioned in an unfair labor practice complaint filed by the Teamsters union against the News-Press. News-Press%2520101%2520Protest2.jpg

According to the Teamsters, which represents newsroom employees forming a union, it was illegal for Cappello to make statements in newspaper articles warning employees that certain activities, like displaying a banner over the freeway, deserved punitive action. These are actions protected by federal law, the union said. In a letter to me, Cappello termed it “ludicrous” that the union would call his replies to reporters’ question threats. He termed it free speech.

Sound of Music: Watching the Santa Barbara Symphony’s Oscars pop concert Friday night, I wondered this: If the musicians were playing the same score as the movie scenes being shown on the big screen above them, how come I couldn’t hear the actual film music?

A couple of musicians I chatted with at intermission cleared up the mystery. The film clips had the music part of the sound track erased, allowing us to hear what the stage musicians were playing, along with voices and background sounds of what was going on in the movie. Biggest problem, they said, was working with one of the films, The Adventures of Robin Hood, a 1930s movie on old film stock.

(S.B. Botanic Garden photos by Sue De Lapa)

Barney Brantingham can be reached at (805) 965-5205 or He also writes a Thursday column in The Santa Barbara Independent’s print edition and on Friday The Indy publishes Barney’s Weekend Picks online.

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