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  • February 20, 2018 5:25 PM | David Laws (Administrator)

    Susan Chamberlin (February 9, 2018)

    It is still difficult to comprehend the terrible loss of lives, homes, gardens, property, businesses, wildlife, and the cultural landscape in Montecito that occurred in the early hours of January 9, 2018 as “debris flows” triggered by a 200-year storm event drenching the Thomas Fire burn area tore apart families and the community. This disaster is now known as the Montecito Mudslides. 

    The cultural and natural landscapes were ravaged. Creek beds were reconfigured by flash floods and denuded in places as their riparian trees and vegetation were carried downstream along with thousands of tons of mud, ash, sandstone boulders (some bigger than SUVs), entire buildings, automobiles, and telephone poles to be deposited as debris in piles up to 20 feet high and 40 feet wide. Many of the trees and hedges that are a distinguishing feature of Montecito (1) are now gone including ancient coast live oak trees (Quercus agrifolia).

    The cultural landscape originated following the Chumash Native American Indians because few, if any, traces of them remain. El Montecito was primarily settled by Presidio soldiers on Mexican land grants. Most lived near Montecito Creek, which flowed year-round before Yankee ingenuity privatized its water. Still called “Spanish Town,” the area of modest houses around East Valley Road and Parra Grande Lane (named for the big grapevine that Maria Marcelina Feliz planted in the 1870s) was hit hard. The Montecito Creek watercourse overall (which combines Cold Springs and Hot Springs Creeks) was where many homes and stone bridges were destroyed or damaged and where 16 of the 21 victims lost their lives. (Two remain missing at this writing.) Other entire neighborhoods were decimated along Romero and San Ysidro Creeks.

    On the banks of San Ysidro Creek, the San Ysidro Ranch dates back to about 1825. It is advertised as Forbes magazine’s “#1 Favorite Leisure Hotel Anywhere in the World.”  Once known for its oranges and later known as the resort where the Kennedys honeymooned, it is not clear if the Stonehouse Restaurant and Plow & Angel (formerly the orange packing house) or how many of its cottages were damaged or destroyed. The citrus grove, the chef’s garden, and other lovely gardens on the grounds are gone.(2)

    Many Montecito gardens were created before the Depression during the Golden Age of American Gardens. Casa del Herrero, a National Historic Landmark cultural landscape, “weathered the storm” wrote Jessica Tade, its Executive Director, in an email of 1-12-18. World-famous Lotusland “is fine” with only some paths “washed out” according to a letter to members from CEO Gwen Stauffer. I heard through a friend that Val Verde, Lockwood de Forest’s masterpiece of landscape architecture, lost most of the landscape elements, a cottage, and rare old trees on the level adjacent to Montecito Creek. The formal reflecting pool (also known as the koi pond) below the steps to the house is damaged and filled with mud. He is certain that across the creek at El Fureidis (Betram Goodhue, 1903) the pavilion at the terminus of the iconic water feature was swept away along with plantings. Little altered over the years, Sotto il Monte (originally called La Toscana, A.E. Hanson, 1929) was spared. I do not know the fate of other significant gardens from the Golden Age. Casa Dorinda was one of them before it became a retirement community. Much of the property is said to be okay, although the entrance was wiped out. Ironically the 100-year-old historic, stone bridge to Casa Dorinda (designed by Carleton M. Winslow) survived the debris flows but the new bridge to replace it for code compliance did not.(3) Riven Rock, the former McCormick estate (c. 1897, Warren H. Manning with Dr. F. Franceschi) was subdivided into 34 parcels around1949. Many landscape elements remained until January when much of Riven Rock and at least one stone bridge was reportedly destroyed.

    It will take a long time to survey damage to all the historic houses and gardens in Montecito, not to mention numerous contemporary gardens of note. I hope they and their owners are safe.

    1. David F. Myrick, Montecito and Santa Barbara, Volume I: Pentrex Media Group, 1988, page 9 is the source of the idea about Montecito’s distinguishing features; this and Myrick’s Volume II (Trans-Anglo Books, 1991) are the best references for the history of Montecito. Information on the Montecito Mudslides is from friends, news reports (many sources), and maps posted online by the Santa Barbara Independent, the County of Santa Barbara, and KEYT News.

    2. Bob Hazard, “Fire and Flood, Mud and Debris,” Montecito Journal, vol. 24, no. 3 (18-25 January 2018), 33. Hazard, 28.

    The old lemon box label at the head of this update shows the Crocker-Sperry Company’s Las Fuentes Rancho orchards and the mountains behind Montecito, California before the landscape was transformed into the modern landscape we knew prior to January 9, 2018. East Valley Road (Hwy 192) is marked by rows of eucalyptus trees behind the Rancho. In 1967 the Rancho became the Birnam Wood Golf Club development (Thomas D. Church, landscape architect, Robert Trent Jones, golf course designer.) Early on January 9, 2018 flash floods and mudslides called “debris flows” originating in the Thomas Fire burn area descended on Montecito and transformed its landscape in a matter of minutes. In the aftermath of the debris flows, helicopters landed on the Birnam Wood fairways to transport victims to the hospital or to shelters. 

  • June 16, 2017 11:39 AM | Anonymous

    Andre Stepankowsky 

    National treasures sometimes come in small packages. They’re delightful…but oh so easy to lose. So it is with a private garden of antique roses that colors and scents a gentle 2.5-acre slope in Sebastopol, California.

    Some 3,500 different rose varieties are collected here on a plot with a sweeping vista of the Coast Range. They span the entire history of the rose. One finds many of the ancient wild or “species” roses here, as well as old Albas, Gallicas, Damasks and Moss roses, some of which Caesar and Shakespeare knew. The collection is especially rich in China, Tea roses and Hybrid Perpetuals, which bear romantic and mysterious names that reflect the French 19th-century mania for roses grown by Empress Josephine at her chateau at Malmaison. Finally, of course, there are Hybrid Teas bred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—many of them impossible to buy or even find today.

    Gregg Lowery and his partner, Phillip Robinson, painstakingly gathered this collection over 30 years. They hunted for roses in old cemeteries, farms, homesteads, and nurseries. Then they undertook the painstaking research needed to identify the foundlings. In 1984, somewhat early in their years of collecting, they established a nursery on the state highway leading to Sebastopol. Vintage Gardens, as they named it, enabled them to earn a living off their passion and sustain their prodigious assemblage of plants. 

    Many public gardens contain far more roses. Yet despite its small footprint, the collection at Vintage Gardens is unmatched anywhere in North America in the scope of its diversity. Only the collection at the Europa-Rosarium Sangerhausen in Germany matches it.

    “It’s the most comprehensive collection of roses of all types of classes,” says Stephen Scanniello, author of 20 books about roses and former curator of roses at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York. “Nothing has been assembled like it in any public garden or private garden in the world, with the exception of Sangerhausen.

    Vintage Gardens has helped restock many old rose gardens that have been destroyed by disease or lost to changing tastes. A decade ago, curators of the Hearst Castle in San Simeon drew from Vintage Gardens to restore the garden of Hybrid Tea roses chosen by William Randolph Hearst in collaboration with his architect, Julia Morgan. Planted in the 1920s and ‘30s at the Castle, most of these roses had been out of commerce for a half-century. 

    “Our garden could restore every significant garden of historic roses in the country. On that level it is unique and very special,” Lowery asserts. “There isn’t anything else like it.” On an aesthetic and cultural level, roses have entwined themselves with human history more than any other flower, and the collection in Sebastopol “is a record of human endeavor and passion,” he says. “It’s a gene bank of human creation.”

    It is also in danger. Vintage Gardens had to shut down its roadside location in 2006. And its mail-order business will close at the end of 2013. Competition from big box stores, the recession and, to some extent, the waning of interest in older roses have put the endeavor down for the count. And the collection has suffered accordingly. Blackberries are suffocating parts of the garden, and pocket gophers have chewed away the roots of many plants. The collection, which at one time or another has harbored 5,000 varieties of roses, is badly in need of an inventory.

    In 2011 Lowery (Robinson moved on to other interests several years ago) was within 20 days of losing the property to foreclosure when some friends stepped in. They purchased the site and agreed to lease the garden for $1 a year to a group of former customers and friends who call themselves Friends of Vintage Roses. The group, formed in 2012, now owns the collection and is seeking nonprofit status to raise money to preserve the trove that Lowery and Robinson assembled. For now, donations may be sent to the Heritage Rose Foundation at heritagerosefoundation.org.

    In addition to harboring genetic material that could one day prove useful, Lowery’s roses are windows into human history. On tours of the garden, Lowery often speaks of people and events that were notable when a particular rose arrived on the scene. “He’ll tell you that this rose was popular when Mozart was composing,” says Scanniello, and in his view, the roses of Sebastopol “are heirlooms and pieces of social history, museum pieces…they are van Goghs.”

    Andre Stepankowsky is an award-winning writer and city editor of The Daily News of Longview, Washington. He tends two rose gardens and lectures about roses old and new.

  • June 16, 2017 10:22 AM | Anonymous

    Thea Gurns

    Until 1995, I was a person happy in my spot; indeed, a person who believed her spot was just the best, no question. I viewed San Diego the way that famous New Yorker cover viewed the world—mapped in detail for several blocks, then perspective narrowed and shortened until the illustration took a quick dive off an edge.

    The far southwestern corner of the Golden State held everything for me—coast, flat lands, “back country,” mountains, desert. Beach cliffs, tide pools, coastal sage, streams, lakes. I thought San Diego lacked for little.

    When Bill Grant founded the California Garden and Landscape History Society, I went along for the ride. Soon I was hearing names unknown to me—McLarens, father and son; Farrand; Yoch. Who were these people? What had they done? Gardens were mentioned—Bancroft, Saratoga, Val Verde. Where were they? What did they contain?

    I began learning from the first meeting I attended, in November 1996, Botanic Heritage Gems of San Diego. Lucy Warren arranged a visit to archived wonders tucked in the basement of the San Diego History Center. Then we gathered in one of Balboa Park’s “secret” meeting places not often open to the public. When we went around the room to name interests, the answers intimidated: botanist, landscape designer, garden researcher, horticultural librarian, historian. “I want to look at pretty places,” I said.

    Over the following fifteen years traveling the state to CGLHS conferences. I have looked aplenty at pretty places. Come travel along.

    1999 Artistic Legacies

    Unlocking the Treasures Behind the Garden Gates
    All about the ranchos, Los Alamitos and Los Cerritos, still here in fiercely urban/suburban Long Beach. David Streatfield gave a talk in a newly restored barn where some of us were seated on prickly hay bales. Once home, I immediately went to his book, California Gardens: Creating a New Eden, and learned more.

    2000 Garden History of the Monterey Peninsula

    I remember walking through whitewashed adobes, their thick walls holding silence. From the preservationist herself, I scored a Frances Grate geranium. It still flourishes in our garden.

    2001 Garden History of Sonoma County

    Ah, this was the time the historian Tom Brown threw back his head and proclaimed, “There were no mission gardens.” Since then, I never have looked at those misleading things, mission courtyards, in the same way Here we enjoyed a great dinner of locally sourced sausages and vegetables plucked fresh from a plot up the street and drank the esteemed local wines.

    2002 Cultivating CapistranoHistoric Valley Gardens and Landscapes

    Those assembled enjoyed the happiness of wandering adobe-lined Rios Street at dusk, a magic hour that called forth days now vanished. The mood continued through dinner in Carol MacElwee’s original adobe—thank you, Virginia Gardner!—as we listened to songs of early Californios. Gary Lyon treated us to an impromptu tour of the historic O’Neill ranch, showing us a coastal sage vista that stretched forever and an extraordinary cactus garden he’d planted to surround the house.

    2003 Earthly Paradise = Garden History of the San Francisco Peninsula

    At the Cantor Center for the Arts we admired Betsy Fryberger’s exhibition on the evolution of garden art that was every bit as fascinating as she had promised. On this, my first visit to Stanford, you could see the way the school grew out of the family estate. Rudolph Ulrich’s Victorian Arizona Garden was a highlight. Former Filoli Director Lucy Tolmach toured us through the Gentleman’s Fruit Orchard there, and we also visited that Craftsman triumph Green Gables. The view of the Santa Cruz hills bewitched.

    2004 The Empire that Citrus Built - Landscape History of Old San Bernardino County. 

    We wandered over the Mission Inn’s crenellations and enjoyed taste-testing at the UC Citrus Research Station, guided by soon-to-retire Tootie. My friend Beki was so taken by citrus she discovered here that she has now propagated 500 to 600 lime varieties and is well on her way to a commercial 1,000. At Fairmont Park we learned dilapidation teaches, too.

    2005 Beyond Vineyards - Landscapes of the Napa Valley

    Sandra Price sat us down in the St. Helena School auditorium and speakers related how before the grapes, a variety of crops were farmed in the valley. We toured six private gardens set among ubiquitous vineyards. A late afternoon wine reception at historic Spottswoode estate deepened the spell of this famed part of the state. As I’m claustrophobic, I held back as you all descended into Schramsberg wine caves, but I still learned enough to prefer Schramsberg Brut Rose with buttered popcorn.

    2006 California’s Saratoga Springs, Orchards and Gardens

    Tucked away in hill country, Saratoga revealed itself as a fine retreat for those seeking restoration in the spring waters of a resort town. In the picturesque historic village we met in Old Fireman’s Social Hall, then toured estate gardens, including the impressive Villa Montalvo, and Japanese-style gardens. At Hakone Garden’s moon-viewing pavilion, we participated in the ritual of Japanese tea—an exceptional treat.

    2007 California Japanese-Style Gardens Tradition and Practice

    Because of this conference, I now drive modest postwar suburban streets hoping to spot remnants of Japanese-style pruning. The lectures were intense forays into American manifestations of Japanese garden styles: estate, teahouse, bungalow, and friendship. We learned about the gardeners who created and maintained them. My friend Nancy Carol Carter used her lunchtime wisely: She darted into an old hardware store and came out with a Japanese grass sickle she uses to slice through thick succulent leaves. As we ate dinner on the garden terrace of the New Otani Hotel, we listened as mystery writer Naomi Hinahara read from her latest novel.

    2008 Spirit of Landscape - California’s Lower Owens River Valley

    The conference celebrated the beauty and diversity of California’s Eastern Sierra landscape, and few of us there will forget this dramatic mountain, desert, and river valley region, and especially the gardens created by Japanese Americans interned at Manzanar during World War II. Each time we turn on a spigot in these drought-conscious times we’ll remember the changes wrought on the land by the diversion of water from the Owens River into Los Angeles aqueducts.

    2010 Santa Cruz - Land of 1001 Wonders

    For me, this conference was dominated by our honoree and founder Bill Grant who orchestrated activities in boom-voice fashion. UC Santa Cruz is renowned for its native plant collection. From those around at the creation, we heard how its wonders came to be and over the years evolved. The UC Santa Cruz Arboretum has a plant store, where I picked up the ‘William Grant’ rose, which is named for Bill.

    2010 Keeping Up with the Joneses - Beatrix Farrand’s Southern California Gardens

    Garden historian Judith Tankard discussed Farrand with an emphasis on her little-known work in SoCal, including the director’s house at the Huntington (where her husband was library director), and at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden. Then our own Ann Scheid showed us around the Farrand-designed portions of Caltech and Occidental College. The lagniappe for me was a stop at Hale Solar Observatory, a Spanish Colonial Revival gem of reinforced concrete with chimney, mission tiles, rough plastered walls, and deeply set windows. Given National Historic Register status, it is now owned and maintained by the architect couple who saved and beautifully restored it.

    2011 Ranchos to Castles - A Tour of San Luis Obispo County

    We traveled by bus down the coast past beach towns and up through a valley of farms and vineyards. Dining in the dramatic setting of a hilltop vineyard, we were entertained by historian Victoria Kastner’s illustrated talk about Hearst Ranch. For me the defining moment was realizing at the Dana Adobe that to preserve the original viewscape is as important as saving the house and garden and that an historic vista can be equally worthy of national registration and preservation.

    2012 Plants, Passion, and Propagation - A Horticultural Tour of Sonoma County

    For me, the high point came on a sweltering day as we sat in the Quarry Hills greenhouse enthralled by tales told by a plant hunter who travels to discover seeds and brings them back to the lab for propagation. Again, our backseat filled with plants, this time from the impressive native plant nursery, California Floral.

    2013 A Fresno Frolic

    Third-generation inhabitant Bob Boro’s passion shone as he showed us around the Fig Garden area and entertained us in his own Tower District home. I especially remember strolling in Kearney Park under a tunnel of century-old olive trees, imagining how it would feel to ride through the allée in a horse-drawn carriage. The Clark Center of Japanese Art and Culture in Hanford, now closed forever, impressed with its Torii gates, stroll garden, and fabled art collection.

    2013 Becoming Public - Design, History, Plants and Preservation in East Bay Gardens

    The draw for me was the Ruth Bancroft Garden. What an avid gardener and record-keeper! What she created was exceptional in her time, and with its many water-conserving plants is especially relevant today. At 105 years of age and from her wheelchair, Bancroft was still planting up pots to be sold to help maintain the property. Richard Turner showed us around as he recounted the story of his discovering the garden and how the non-profit Garden Conservancy sprang from a need to preserve this horticultural treasure.

    2014 Santa Barbara and The Landscape Legacy of Lockwood De Forest

    As we hurried to the opening lecture on our first evening, moist night air carried the scent of coastal sage scrub characteristic of this landscape. With hills hugging close to the sea, Santa Barbara is plein air in real time. All the de Forests knew the magic intimately and showed its gentle beauty and strength on canvas and on the land. Sidney Baumgarten inherited the de Forest “Buffalo” roadster and had it on special display in her driveway. The walk through her house to get to the back garden jolted me. I remember reading 1980s’ design magazines showcasing her work, and now I realize how much my décor is stamped with her influence.

    As I read through this list of conferences and tours-and-talks, memories tumble, ideas emerge. Was it at Sonoma that the Luther Burbank house garden grew or was that Jack London’s house I remember? The evening reception in a WPA-built clubhouse: Was that in Monterey or somewhere outside San Luis Obispo? Enlightenment came on journeys to and from sites—vivid orange poppy fields on the way to Lompoc, golden September hills around Walnut Creek, surfers wave-riding Mussel Shoals’ white water. 

    And then there are all those CGLHS folks who took me in hand and taught me—Marlea Graham, Laurie Hannah, Margaret Mori, Susan Chamberlin, Glenda Jones, Judy Horton: thank you! The backseat plants expand our garden in diversity, a match for my expanding knowledge of the state’s diversity. When a news item names a city or section of California, that name resonates because I can recall where that place is, what it looks like now, and a little bit of times past. 

    What does my California now feel like? Enlarged. Enriched. My part of California is still the nest, but now other parts—your part—look pretty fine, too.  Through these conferences, as a group, we’ve stitched together patches of my, your, our California into one big state garden and landscape quilt. 

    We still answer David C. Streatfield’s call to arms at our first conference. California’s gardens and landscapes are worth our passion and celebration. This year in San Diego!

    Thea Gurns maintains she is a charter member of CGLHS, as it’s not her fault the application was lost in the mail and she missed the 1995 organizational meeting!

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