How Garden Grows

It was great to see the Historic Landmarks Advisory Commission work out agreement with so many of the proposals and I think that the acceptance for the planned structures will allow the Garden to provide much better research, educational, and visitor services [News, “More Ups and Downs for Botanic Garden,” 11/10/09]. In general, visitors never see much more than the grounds and the gift shop and yet there is so much more than this. That there are staff working there from such famous botanical gardens as Kew in the U.K., performing serious research and propagation of rare and endangered Californian plant species, goes largely unnoticed. As I discovered recently, this is the only botanical garden recognized as a museum in the United States!

What next? HLAC went against the meadow and paving proposals. While I think the meadow proposal should have been allowed and I don’t want to think about the work involved in rolling it back to some other iteration, I seriously believe that the paving of the trails, at least those that the average wheelchair user could use, should be allowed to be carried out. While we all accept that total ADA compliance will never be possible, let us go forward in the spirit. I have to admit to being very irked by some of the opponents’ testimonies which were at times callous, incorrect, or occasionally delusional and betrayed their self-interests in the proposals.

With so much approved already, maybe these last two wrinkles can be ironed and the garden permitted to follow its plans to completion and continue to give us the same world-class quality throughout the 21st century. – Jolyon Curran

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I write with grave concern about the recent and proposed changes to the historic landscape at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. My published work on Beatrix Farrand (18721959) and Lockwood de Forest Jr. (18961949) identifies this design-widely considered a national treasure-as a unique collaboration between them.

I visited the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden last week for the first time in nearly a decade and was shocked by its appearance. What was, 10 years ago, a carefully orchestrated composition reflecting the design ideas of two of the most significant names in the annals of early 20th century landscape architecture has become a hodgepodge of disparate elements-from concrete driveway pavers, to visually chaotic wrought-iron fencing, to jagged, intermittent retaining walls, to a large “temporary” (yet apparently longstanding) hut that obliterates the major view, to gaping holes once filled by important trees. Instead of supporting wildflowers, the central bowl of the meadow is filled with the sod of a suburban lawn.

The proposals now under consideration-to install a large meadow terrace, to continue the paving of trails, to relocate the main entry of the garden, to construct large buildings that would subsume and/or obliterate historic buildings, and to continue to add new fencing-all reflect a profound misunderstanding of, or disdain for, the historical appearance and meaning of this unique landscape.

Do the garden’s trustees not feel an obligation to protect this work of American art? Many other historically significant landscapes now open to the public, including Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., safely accommodate visitors without sacrificing artistic integrity. – Robin Karson, executive director, Library of American Landscape History, Amherst, Mass.

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Originally addressed to the Santa Barbara County Landmarks Commission:

I am writing to express my concern about the proposed meadow terrace project at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. I am a landscape architect, and was invited to develop a concept for a small terrace in the area where a large oak had been removed, and after a one-day visit, sent a sketch of my concept to the Garden. I was told that the construction/planting drawings would be developed by Isabel Greene, who I was told was unable to join me on the day of my visit. Knowing Isabel, I was sure the work would be done with sensitivity and restraint. I have since learned that Isabel was never involved. Subsequently, I have learned that the plans were made considerably more grandiose, and while I have not seen them, I have every reason to believe that they have little resemblance to my original sketch. I was never asked to review the plans as they developed (and grew). Yet I am told that my name is being listed as the designer, and further that my name is misspelled in the submission. Hence, I want to clarify that the work as it is being presented now is not something I want to claim. And I think alternative gathering spaces might well be designed within the Garden. I’m sorry to be a latecomer in this discussion, but did want to clarify my own role, and to disclaim the proposed work as my design.Thank you very much.-Darrel Morrison, professor and dean emeritus in the School of Environmental Design at the University of Georgia, Athens; and adjunct professor, master of science in landscape design degree program at Columbia University, New York

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We are so very fortunate to have the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden in our community. It is a renowned scientific and educational institution and a great place to visit for everyone. The Garden has made itself available to those who are wheelchair bound or those who find walking a challenge as well as for the hikers to enjoy. It is a great place for children to learn about the wilderness and some who may not have been off State Street. It is all there. There is the beautiful meadow and its seasonal growth with views of the mountains. The other environments are there as well. There is the riparian with the magnificent redwoods by the stream, the chaparral and more.

The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is an unusually great place for study and open for all to enjoy. I do hope those few who are living in silly, narrow-minded yesterday will back off and stop trying to put a damper on the Garden’s growth and let the Board of Supervisors give their final stamp of approval so the Garden can get on with its plans.-Nancy Rohrer


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