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Santa Barbara, Calif.  May 11, 2022 – Santa Barbara Botanic Garden has selected the winning designs for its 2022 Backcountry Casitas program, a series of temporary and unique outdoor playhouses. Construction is underway in various locations throughout the new Backcountry exhibit, which opens on June 6, 2022.

“Each of these creative, interactive playhouses has been designed to provide Garden guests with unique perspectives on the wonders of nature,” says Scot Pipkin, Garden director of education. “They are a delightful addition to our new Backcountry area which encourages children and adults to explore and discover.”

The winning designs were selected from applicants from the Santa Barbara community and beyond. Selection criteria included creativity, imagination, and environmentally conscious design, creative use of materials, and relation to the Garden’s mission of fostering conservation of native plants, among others. Winners include both a professor and student in Landscape Architecture from Colorado, a regional green building group, a local composer, and the design firm that developed Backcountry.

Bee Habitat

By Kelly Curl, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Colorado State University

Children can pretend to be bees as they explore a human-scaled (4’ x 8’ x 6’) pollinator home constructed of logs. Some logs are hollow for children to climb through, others extended outwards to act as anchors for vertical climbing. “This design not only educates children on bee nesting, but also on using native pollinating gardens to attract bees, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, and hummingbirds,” says Curl.

Gaia Tree

Central Coast Green Building Council, San Luis Obispo, CA

Literally a “tree house” this casita allows children to enter a hollow tree that has a structure integrated within its trunk. It demonstrates a tree’s cycle of carbon removal from the atmosphere, which is aided by fungi, which will be on view in through a window in an underground display. It is constructed from green materials including salvaged oak for branches, salvage scrap metal for the leaves, and the carbon sink product hempcrete. Located towards Mission Creek from Basecamp.

Hawk’s Nest

By Cody Westheimer, Designer & Builder, Santa Barbara, California

A large wooden hawk spreads its wooden “wings” to create a semicircular seating area. Inside the hawk is a “little library” with nature-themed children’s books and a bowl for “offerings” of natural items (like leaves or small rocks). Nearby is an area for kids to build their own stick nests. This immersive structure will be located just above the lower creek crossing. “The exhibit honors our special connection to nature through a representation of a bird that can be regularly seen soaring about our heads in Santa Barbara,” says Westheimer.

The Perch

By Brightview Design Group, Irvine, California

“This casita is an abstraction of a red-shouldered hawk that we often heard, but rarely saw, checking in on our progress,” says Kurt Buxton, VP, Brightview Design Group, the firm that planned and implemented Backcountry. Located between two large Bishop Pines above Basecamp, the Perch recalls a hawk’s preference for nesting in the primary limbs of a tree. It allows guests to view distant peaks and monitor the garden below, much like a hawk hunts from tall perches by scanning the ground below.

Trolling Trees

By Natalie Leyva, Student of Landscape Architecture, Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Colorado State University

Inspired by the mystical tales of trolls and the native trees of Santa Barbara, this sculptural troll invites climbing and contemplation. Construction features wire mesh filled with rocks (called gabion baskets) used in watershed management. “Trolls are not the leading inspiration, but instead it is the feeling of wonderland exploration,” says Leyva. It will be nestled among the trees and rocky step pools just down the trail from Sycamore Grove. A programmatic element introduces children to native tree species in Santa Barbara.

About Backcountry

Backcountry is an immersive garden where young people (and the young at heart) can climb, jump, run, explore, play, and connect with nature. Encompassing over 4-acres west of Mission Creek, it features inviting and distinct areas designed to inspire unstructured, self-directed nature experiences. The Garden’s newest space is designed for all to enjoy but is focused on kids aged five to 13 years old. The $4 million project opens to the public on June 6, 2022. For more information, visit

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About Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

As the first botanic garden in the nation to focus exclusively on native plants, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden has dedicated nearly a century of work to better understand the relationship between plants and people. Growing from 13 acres in 1926 to today’s 78 acres, the grounds now include more than 5 miles of walking trails, an herbarium, seed bank, research labs, library, and a public native plant nursery. Visit


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