The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s iconic Meadow, an open expanse that leads the eye to the peaks of the Santa Ynez Mountains and beyond, is now under construction.
This Santa Barbara historic landmark will be brought back to its original glory as a stunning living display of native California spring wildflowers and grasses. The Meadow’s appeal has been cherished for generations, and the project’s goal is to restore this part of the garden to its historic grandeur.
The project started this summer, and is due to be completed the summer of 2015. The garden will restore the Meadow’s border plantings and will completely renovate its interior. Invasive “weedy” species will be removed and preferred native species from the garden’s own seed bank will replace them.
"While the Meadow will be a work-in-progress for the better part of two years, ultimately this historic part of the garden will be more beautiful than it has been in a long time, and it will be much closer to the original vision of Ervanna Bissell's design back in 1929," Executive Director Dr. Steve Windhager said. "It is a necessary first step of many positive changes the Garden will undergo over the next few years to greatly improve the visitor experience."
The garden’s recent Historic Landmarks Advisory Commission-approved Cultural Landscape Master Plan identified restoration of the Meadow as a top priority. Past alterations to the Meadow have created a less than uniform look to the display, and have strayed away the original design intent. The project’s ultimate goal is to create a homogeneous mixture of species that provides seasonal color, year-round interest, educational opportunities and reduced maintenance.
To avoid the weedy outcome resulting from past efforts, the garden must try a new approach. The most significant challenge with restoring the Meadow is the infestation of weeds throughout the space, which has spoiled Meadow planting schemes since the 1930s. Weed abatement of the Meadow has not happened in more than 25 years. As a result, the project emphasizes eliminating the standing weed crop and reducing the weed seed bank buried beneath the soil.
Staff will develop a weed abatement plan targeting specific populations of weed species on site. Known as soil solarization, this plan employs plastic sheeting to capture the sun’s energy and heat the soil. The high temperatures achieved kill weed seed and seedlings, and help suppress soil-borne pests and pathogens. Two full cycles of weed abatement will be conducted in the summers of 2013 and 2014 using measures such as grow/kill, solarization, hand-weeding, herbicides, burning and possibly goats.
After the weed abatement treatments are completed, a new planting design for the Meadow will be instituted. Made possible by grants from the Hind Foundation and the Santa Barbara Foundation, this design supports the garden’s educational and aesthetic goals for the Meadow. If the planting scheme develops as expected, the Garden will grow upwards of 70,000 plugs of grasses and other perennials for planting in the Meadow’s interior. These will be over-sown with wildflower seed to provide the spectacular spring show which has delighted generations of visitors. The perennial grasses will provide texture and color throughout the year.
The garden has also renewed the adjacent Meadow Oaks area by welcoming two mature oaks this past April. In the last 20 years, two magnificent oaks and the cover they provided were lost, drastically changing the character and use of the site. These new coast live oak trees (Quercus agrifolia), each greater than 20 feet tall, are thriving in their new home. This important project was the first step towards restoring the beloved Meadow Oaks area, a significant component of the Garden’s historic landscape. This area has been used by the garden for member picnics and other large gatherings since its founding in 1926.
“The Meadow revival project will achieve a living display that is both beautiful, and historically appropriate,” said Betsy Collins, director of horticulture for the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. “This will help us to educate the public about California’s fragile grasslands, and will be visually appealing 365 days a year!”
— Joni Kelly is the communications manager for the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.