Tag Archives: garden

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Welcomes Three New Board Members in 2021

Three new members have joined the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Board of Directors. The Garden welcomes George Leis, Sharon Bradford, and Helene Schneider. The Board supports the Garden’s mission to conserve California native plants and habitats for the health and well-being of people and the planet.

“We are pleased to to have such highly esteemed community members join us in the commitment to preserve biodiversity,” said Dr. Steve Windhager, the Garden’s Executive Director. “Each individual moves our mission forward through unique perspectives, extensive expertise, and a dedication to our increasingly urgent conservation work.”

George Leis is the President & Chief Operating Officer for Montecito Bank & Trust, the oldest and largest locally owned community bank in the Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. George was formerly a managing director for MUFG Union Bank, N.A. He was named the national sales manager for The Private Bank after becoming regional president of Union Bank’s Central Coast region with the acquisition of Santa Barbara Bank & Trust (SBB&T) in December 2012. Previously, Leis was president and chief executive officer of Pacific Capital Bancorp (PCBC), a $7 billion in assets community bank holding company that included SBB&T. 

George Leis

After joining SBB&T in March 2006, Leis was the executive vice president for two divisions, Wealth Management and Information Technology, and was the chief information officer. He was responsible for 500 staff members and a $78 million budget. A graduate of California State University, Northridge (CSUN), he is a Certified Trust and Financial Advisor. 

Leis’ community involvement is exemplified through his service to universities and charities throughout Southern California and beyond, including serving as the Board chair to both the Santa Barbara Zoo and the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, and as a Board member for Channel Islands YMCA, CSU Channel Islands Foundation, the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, and more.

His successful career and passionate involvement in community-focused organizations have earned Leis several awards. A distinguished alumnus of Cal State Northridge, Leis is a prior Board member and prior committee chair for the CSUN Foundation Board of Directors. He has participated on numerous other CSUN Boards, including the College of Business and Economics advisory Board and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Ambassadors.

Sharon Bradford is passionate about her community and has had the opportunity to serve on many boards in her beloved town of Santa Barbara.

Some of these include the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, Lobero Theatre, Direct Relief International, Casa del Herrero, and The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Bradford and her brothers are the owners of San Marcos Growers; a wholesale nursery started by their family in 1980 which grows many native and drought tolerant plants appropriate to California’s mediterranean climate. 

Bradford is a graduate of UCSB with a degree in Art History, and after living in the Bay Area for thirty years, Sharon and her husband David are thrilled to be “home”.

Helene Schneider serves as the Regional Development Director for California State University, Channel Islands, expanding awareness and support of CSUCI in Santa Barbara County, and as a Regional Coordinator for the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, focusing on reducing homelessness in communities throughout California and Arizona. Schneider also served for over 17 years in municipal government, as mayor, city councilmember, and housing authority commissioner for the City of Santa Barbara, California.

Schneider currently volunteers on the non-profit boards for Sister Cities International and the Santa Barbara Arts Collaborative. She earned her B.A. degree from Skidmore College and her Professional Designation in Human Resources Management from UCLA Extension.

See more about the Garden’s Board of Trustees by visiting their website at sbbg.org/about/board-of-trustees. To learn more about how to support the Garden, visit sbbg.org/get-involved.

The Garden serves the public as more than just a pretty place, but as a model of sustainability and an engine for native habitat conservation in the region. Our mission has become increasingly urgent as more native plant species face extinction, threatening the foundation of all life on the planet. Founded in 1926, the Garden is the first botanic garden focused exclusively on California native plants and currently spans 78 acres with five miles of walking trails, an herbarium, seed bank, research labs, library, and Nursery. The Garden welcomes the public every day from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. and offers a members-only hour from 9 a.m. – 10 a.m. For more information about the Garden, please visit sbbg.org.   

Live Fuel Moisture Findings at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

The Garden is tracking drier than average conditions as we enter high fire season

The Santa Barbara County Fire Department declared May 3 as the start date for the 2021 high fire season for all areas of the county. This year’s severely lower than normal rainfall has resulted in drier fuels, which means the risk of fire ignition and spread have already reached high levels. 

The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden has tracked local Live Fuel Moisture conditions since 2013. Live Fuel Moisture, or LFM, is the amount of water in a plant’s tissues, by weight, compared to the weight of plant tissues after they are dried. Plants have high LFM in the winter and early spring, when water is plentiful and the weather is cooler. In summer and fall, LFM drops as plants transpire water and soils dry out. The cycle repeats itself annually, with plants increasing in LFM (and decreasing in flammability) following the first fall rains.

The Garden has collaborated with the University of California Cooperative Extension since 2013 to measure LFM in vegetation at several sites, including along Painted Cave Road, at the top of Tunnel Road, and at St. Mary’s Seminary on Las Canoas Road. Our team collects from two common chaparral species: chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) and bigpod ceanothus (Ceanothus megacarpus). 

“Thankfully, chamise is pretty tough and though it has been drier than usual, there has been new growth on our local plants,” said Dr. Josie Lesage, the Garden’s Applied Ecologist. “However, the lack of rain this year means we should be extra careful about fire ignition as the LFM continues to drop this season”

The Garden’s weather station shows that we have received between 45-50 percent of the normal precipitation in 2021. The Garden’s next LFM data will be published online by May 10, and may show the first noticeable drop for this season. 

With the threat of hotter, drier conditions that prime vegetation to burn, we all must be extra careful about potential fire-causing activities to avoid a devastating wildfire season, as human activities are a common ignition source. Carefully dispose of smoking materials, camp responsibly and never leave a campfire unattended, and incorporate fire-resistant plants into your landscape like California-fuchsia. Read through the Garden’s water wise plant guide to learn more about water wise landscaping.

Founded in 1926, the garden is the first botanic garden focused exclusively on California native plants and currently spans 78 acres with five miles of walking trails, an herbarium, seed bank, research labs, library, and nursery. The Garden is open to the public daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and offers a members-only hour from 9-10 a.m.

For more information about the garden, visit sbbg.org.

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Just like nearly every place in town, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden closed for two months during the first phase of the stay-at-home orders designed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic last spring. But then the county decided that the Garden was an essential service. 

Which, to anyone who has ever visited the 78-acre site that blends cultivated displays with stands of natural woodlands, was sort of a case of stating the obvious. Visiting SBBG is like taking a trip to a lush haven within the already inviting space that Santa Barbara and environs occupy between the ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains. So welcoming people back to the Garden – as Joni Mitchell once sang – was a happy moment for SBBG Executive Director Steve Windhager.

“When I go for walks in the garden, it’s great to see people down in the woods, just recharging,” he said. “I can’t describe it any other way but that it’s almost like they’re plugging into something and getting renewed and refreshed. To me, that’s what the garden is all about and why it is so important that we’re available during this difficult time for everybody.”

It also helps that, as Windhager said, it’s a “super safe place to go,” because social distancing is pretty easy in such an expansive space and the staff are committed to enforcing the requirement that visitors wear masks at all times, a restriction that hasn’t stopped the Garden from having its biggest year yet in terms of visitors in 2020, pro-rating the numbers from the months it was open. It also doesn’t hurt that the Garden is easily accessible from anywhere in the area, just a short drive up Mission Canyon – “Literally four miles from the ocean, seven minutes from town, maybe a few more if you get stuck behind a slow-moving vehicle,” he said. 

But what’s becoming readily apparent over recent years is just how important SBBG is beyond serving as a recreational space for locals looking for time in nearby nature during lockdown. That value is right in the Garden’s mission: “To conserve California native plants and habitats for the health and well-being of people and the planet.” 

The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is an ideal place to visit to unplug and recharge

“We’ve been around for 95 years and everyone knows that we’re a garden, but what they don’t understand is that really we’re a conservation organization that happens to have a garden,” Windhager explained, noting that SBBG contains more than 1,000 species of plants native to California. “The reason we’re all about those plants is because not only are they incredibly beautiful, they support the biodiversity that supports all of our lives. They support pollination services, support our crops, restoration and, well basically, life on the planet.” 

Correctly understanding what’s out there and making sure those plants continue to live for the coming generations is “the untold story about the Botanic Garden,” Windhager said. “We do want people to come visit us and be impressed by California’s flora, to come see the wildflowers instead of having to drive up to Figueroa Mountain – and they’re going to be gorgeous this year. But I think species research and preservation is the bigger story.” 

That goal is why SBBG has ramped up its Conservation & Research program, staffed largely by an ever-increasing team of PhD botanists and researchers, to study and understand biodiversity, protect rare plants, restore habitats, and engage in seed banking – the latter a 20-year-old program that got another jolt in 2016 when the Garden opened its new Conservation Center, an 11,500-square foot space that also has some public exhibits.

“An ecologist once said the first rule of intelligent tinkering is saving all the pieces,” Windhager said. “The truth is we still know so little about our planet that we don’t understand which species may form the critical link, which ones might provide the next cure for cancer, and which ones, if we lose them, will cause what’s called a trophic cascade, where all of a sudden, a third of the planet’s diversity disappears.” 

All of this is nothing new, by the way, Windhager said, noting that the Garden was founded back in 1926 out of concern for species cataloging amid the rapid development of Southern California. But that function somehow seems to fade in the wake of the Garden’s beauty, which is why the ED said SBBG is investing time and energy in getting the word out. 

“We’re like the Noah’s Ark for California’s rarest plants, going back to doing some of the first early explorations out on the Channel Islands, an incredible place to explore because they really are California’s Galapagos. Or rather, in many ways, they make Galapagos look really kind of chintzy, at least in terms of plant diversity,” he said.

While the Conservation Center remains closed during the pandemic protocols, the rest of the Garden is open and available. Late winter/early spring is a perfect time for visiting, Windhager said. “Just as a spring is a time of renewal, we’re going to see all these plants springing up.” With all of the recent rain, the manzanita – the Garden boasts a big section dedicated to the ground cover shrub – are beginning to bloom, boasting delicate bell-shaped flowers. “They’re just going to town and several others are about one or two weeks away from really starting to take off.”

He also stressed that the nursery is open, and right now is a perfect time to take home a beautiful California native species to plant in a home landscape. “It’s the absolute best time of the year to get plants in the ground,” Windhager said. “Most people think about spring as the planting season, but that’s completely wrong in Southern California. Right now is the most pleasant and easiest time of the year for a plant to get established, put those roots down before it has to go through a long protracted drought here in California.” 

Purchasing a plant to take home is one of the things people who might not have the means to make major donations can do to help with the Garden’s mission, too, since government funding for the Garden is on a contract basis, Windhager said. “Visiting, becoming a member, and taking home plants is what helps us continue to be a resource for Santa Barbara. Without the generosity of our community, we couldn’t exist.”

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
(805) 682-4726
1212 Mission Canyon Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93105

A Garden of Delights

Bounded by the Pacific to the west and the Sierra Nevada to the east, California is home to over 6,500 native plants, many of which only exist here, that serve as the backbone to our state’s diverse and increasingly fragile ecosystems.

“If those species are lost in California, they are lost to the planet,” says Steve Windhager, the executive director of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. 

For Windhager, the 78-acre Garden, with its over 1,000 species of native plants heralding from southern Oregon all the way to the tip of Baja including the southern-most redwood grove, is much “more than a pretty place.” It is the home base for a three-pronged conservation effort to “understand, protect, and restore” California’s rich flora. 

To do this, the Garden’s growing team of researchers, conservationists, and PhD-level botanists work throughout the state to actively document the diversity of plants across the California Floristic Province. To date, their scientific repository contains over 190,000 preserved plant and lichen collections dating as far back as 1860.

They are also protecting the future through widespread seed banking. “It’s an insurance policy for native plants,” Windhager says. “We put the seeds into suspended animation, to be defrosted for research or in a time of catastrophe.” 

And all the while, the Garden is working with large landholders, think the Department of Defense and the United States Forest Service, to better manage their lands, restore native species, and bring overall health to California’s rich but increasingly fragile ecosystems. 

Then, of course there is the Garden, a beautiful and beloved community asset set in Santa Barbara’s Mission Canyon, with sweeping views to both the Santa Ynez Mountains and out to the Channel Islands. Nearly 80,000 people visit each year to take in the seasonal splendor of quintessentially Californian nature scenes; a meadow lush with wildflowers in the Spring, a rushing stream and its riparian ecosystem springing to life with winter rains. The Garden is home to a rich tradition of public education, hosting numerous classes and lectures for adults each year, as well as one of the longest lasting school visiting programs, started in the 1950s, where Windhager says, youth “experience the importance of native plants as the cornerstone of all life on our planet.”

And the Garden is also the seat of serious scholarship. In 2019, its staff and affiliated researchers published a book, nine peer-reviewed articles, and six technical reports all while DNA coding plants, lichens, arthropods, mosses, and fungi growing on the Channel Islands. 

“The Garden itself is the gateway for most people,” Windhager says. “For some, visiting Mission Canyon and walking through the redwoods is enough. But others, they get hooked and they want to go deeper and learn more. These are our future conservationists.”

And with the near endless diversity of California’s flora, there is always more to learn and discover.

A Botanical Nirvana

In Montecito, a land of spectacular architecture and pristine gardens, there lies a property like no other: Lotusland. 

Set across 37 acres, this sprawling estate turned public garden boasts 3,500 plant species from across the globe, many dating back 140 years, with towering palms and cacti, brilliant water gardens, and some of the most endangered fauna in the world. Then layer in the life of its enigmatic creator, Madame Ganna Walska, and you have a landscape that is a living work of art. 

“Part of the magic of Lotusland is the size and the scale of these mature specimen plants,” says Executive Director Rebecca Anderson. “Lotusland is grand and historic. When you enter, you are transported to a magical world where fantasy, whimsey and horticultural genius create a botanical masterpiece.” 

In late 2020, USA Today readers voted Lotusland one of the top 10 botanical gardens in the country. 

This remarkable garden was made even more so by its founder, Madame Ganna Walska, an Opera singer of intermittent fame, married six times, who purchased the property in 1941. She originally named it Tibetland, in anticipation of the Tibetan monks who were to be invited to study on the estate. When that plan dissolved, she renamed the gardens Lotusland due to the presence and symbolism of this exceptional flowering plant. Before her death in 1984, Madame created her signature masterpiece; converting the swimming pool into a water garden, creating a sanctuary for more than 200 species of Cyads (among the rarest plants on Earth) and erecting 20 themed gardens and filling the estate will sculpture and treasured collections.

It wouldn’t be until 1993 that Walska’s dream of converting Lotusland into a public garden was realized. Given the estate’s location, in the heart of residential Montecito, it took nine years and 64 Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors meetings to approve the nonprofit garden for public visitation. With that approval came severe restrictions on visitation: today, just 15,000 guests may visit per year as well as 5,000 school children.

“We want to discredit the myth that we are exclusive by design,” Anderson says, “Despite its appearance, Lotusland is not affluent. We struggle every year to raise the funds necessary to preserve and share Ganna Walska’s vision.” 

Anderson points out that maintaining a 37-acre garden and property is a massive commitment that requires our community’s attention. “For the first 27 years of our operations, we appropriately put the Garden’s care and tending above all. Now, the 100 year old buildings and grounds have begun to show their age and need considerable investment.” 

Her charge is to ensure that the entire property is brought up to the level it deserves for the education and enjoyment of the next generation. Lotusland is more than a beautiful place – it is a porthole to history, an important link in global plant preservation, a center for learning and a refuge for unparalleled spiritual elevation. 

“People crave the respite and reset brought by immersing in nature,” Anderson says. “Lotusland is an oasis that is healing to body and soul. Its benefits are palpable and its important plant collections are unparalleled. Visit Lotusland and be transported by a botanical nirvana that is tranquil, verdant and lush.”