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For The Garden

Verdant Santa Barbara Garden

Author: Nancy Erdmann
Issue: January, 2013, Page 112
Photos by Jim Bartsch

Layers of vegetation add dimension to the lower back courtyard where two dogs—a cast-stone Greyhound and a contented terrier named Gingersnap—seem right at home.



Lush With Plants and Personality, a Santa Barbara Garden Offers Delights Around Every Bend

Shady, lush and densely vegetated, Sydney Baumgartner’s Santa Barbara property may not appear to have anything in common with the gardens of the desert Southwest. But tucked throughout this magical place—where paths lead to unexpected destinations and statuary is nestled among leafy foliage—are plants galore that thrive in arid, hot conditions.

From Brazilian pepper trees, blue acacias and dwarf eucalyptus to pomegranates, roses and jasmine, the flora is suitable for both geographical locations. The biggest difference is in the breadth of offerings. “The climate here allows for almost any plant the imagination can wish for, except those needing a cold climate,” explains Baumgartner, a well-respected landscape architect. And while the range of plant material is more limited in the low desert, the Santa Barbara look can still be translated by swapping out one plant for another and incorporating some basic elements.

“Our casual outdoor living environment and great climate are what foster the ubiquitous arbors, sitting areas and entertaining spaces that are part of Santa Barbara style,” the homeowner points out. Water elements such as reflecting pools and fountains are key, as are garden ornaments, walkways, ironwork and stone. “Our sandstone walls are a Santa Barbara tradition,” she states. “I love having lots of walls for cascading plants.”

Baumgartner, who married into the family of famed landscape architect Lockwood de Forest III, has nurtured her garden for more than 30 years and says it is a very personal one. “It exclaims my love of plants and the exuberant lushness of the spaces that have been made within,” she notes. “There are many places to go with specific uses and very private spaces for indulgences and contemplation.”

Stone walls accented with arched blue doors conceal the “chicken palace,” which includes a henhouse for a flock of fourteen. Also hidden from view are feed bins, a compost-tea maker, compost bins, a chip pile and a potting bench with seed starter trays for propagation—all elements that help keep the garden sustainable.
Throughout the grounds is a rich tapestry of greenery that veils garden rooms from sight. In the upper garden, for instance, a reflecting pond is filled with floating balls that mimic bubbles. A narrow enclave off the courtyard opens to a waterfall garden where an open-air shower is nestled among tropical-looking foliage. And in the crystal chandelier garden, a charming arbor provides shade for dining among trees hung with strands of crystals and sparkling chandeliers.

Baumgartner also has tiered planting beds; a grass bocce ball court; a work space with a composting setup; fruit, herb and vegetable gardens; and a flock of chickens. She even has a flower-arranging garden with a faucet for keeping cut blooms fresh and a table for making her arrangements.

Lush, eclectic, romantic and complex, the well-planned grounds are filled with surprises around every corner. And as the flower and leaf colors change with the seasons, so does the garden. At the end of the day, it’s the homeowner’s favorite place to sit back and relax while savoring the quiet beauty before her.


Only 3 inches deep, the concrete-bordered pond is filled with floating glass and metal spheres. Behind the water feature is a cast-iron Chinese urn on a pedestal.
The homeowner found this dovecote at a Montecito estate sale and had it refurbished. Now it sits atop her design studio, which is located next to the main house.


Sydney Baumgartner says she likes to experiment with plants in her own yard to show clients how they will look at maturity. One example is this variegated agave.
In the crystal chandelier garden, strands of glass crystals hang from trees that are lit by the setting sun or at night by landscape lights.

Photos - Clock-wise from top left: The dining arbor is partially constructed of lattice panels made from mulberry whips. •  Garden ornaments can be found throughout the grounds, including around a courtyard pond and under a shade-covered ramada.

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