Spring seems to be everyone’s favorite season. Temperatures start to rise, Daylight Saving Time begins, and the Vernal Equinox (March 21) brings us more natural
Vitamin D. Wildlife keeps its watchful eyes on newborns; leaves appear on deciduous trees, absorbing the carbon dioxide; and flowers and bulbs start to bloom everywhere!
If you don’t already have one, it’s time to buy The Sunset Western Garden Book, the must-have reference book for Santa Barbara garden enthusiasts and professionals. After 25-plus years in the industry, I still refer to it for answers.
If you’re looking for a different, garden-related book, pick up The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. This non-fiction murder mystery centers on the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and goes into fascinating detail about how Frederick Law Olmsted helped engineer and supervise the plantings of some about 600 acres on the fairgrounds.
Today, Olmstead is recognized as the father of American landscape architecture, who not only laid out the World’s Fair but designed New York City’s Central Park.
I turn to his ideas and philosophies to guide me whenever I begin a new project.
Prepare for Drought
Summer will surely follow spring and bring its own seasonal offerings. Due to the small amounts of rain we experienced last fall and winter, experts predict that we’ll have a serious drought this summer. We need to prepare our garden now for the summer season. Accessing enough affordable water has become a problem in the region. In general, irrigating our landscapes and gardens is a major use of residential
water in Santa Barbara, with green lawns being the thirstiest plant of all.
I’d like to propose a soul-saving alternative to some of the lawns and planting beds in your garden: a pollinator garden! As you may have read, the populations of birds, bees, and butterflies have been nearly decimated by man’s use of chemical pesticides and the loss of natural habitats. There are specific plants that these delicate, winged creatures need and desire, plants that are drought-tolerant and well-suited to our Mediterranean climate zone. These three different species thrive on many of the same plants. Of course, milkweed is a favorite of the butterflies, while the bees and the birds (especially hummingbirds) like to visit and collect pollen from salvia, penstemon, cosmos, and lavender. There are a lot of other flowering plants they love, too. Just search on the web for “pollinator plants.”
If space is a concern, then pots are the answer. A pollinator garden can be a do-good family project that will pay you back with hours of viewing pleasure. You can find many other native, pollinator-friendly plants on a stroll through our esteemed Santa Barbara Botanic Garden In the past, the garden has held an annual Spring Native Plant Sale, but this year consider combining a nature walk there with a buying trip. For the adventurous, drive to Figueroa Mountain in Santa Ynez. You should find a spectacular display of wildflowers this spring.
There’s another concern looming this summer: the potential for fires. Those of you with properties on the hillsides can find excellent information about how to create defensible space zones around your home; choose fire-resistant plants; and ember-resistant building materials at www.montecitofire.com.
Doomsday tales aside, fate has brought us to this extraordinary spot on the planet. Treat yourself by getting outside and enjoying these glorious days.
– It’s time to fertilize the garden. I use a general-purpose fertilizer mix
10-10-10 (nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium). You may have plants that require a more complex mix;
– Plant your herbs and vegetables now for fresh, yummy, dishes in the summer;
– Update the times set on your automated irrigation system.
Later, I’ll write about how to tackle your garden maintenance patrol.
If you’re a garden hobbyist (or would like to be), I’ll be teaching a course on the Essential Principles of Landscape Design through SB City College (online via Zoom) beginning May 22 for five weeks. The classes are two hours each week. In early April, you can find out more specifics by clicking here.
Article by By Sarah Ettman-Sterner from Montecito Neighbors July 2020 issue
In 1744, Englishman Tommy Thumb wrote Pretty Song Book, which included this charming nursery rhyme familiar to us all:
Mistress Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With Silver Bells, And Cockle Shells,
And so my garden grows.
If you’re wondering how the grounds around your home should grow, you can rely on Alida Aldrich for answers and action. She is your garden’s best friend! Working in unison with a dedicated team she calls her “family” -Montecito designer/builder Peer Knust and landscape contractor Wyatt Talley - she is successful in beautifying natural surroundings to help make a property look and feel like home. Photos of her
work speak to her extraordinary talent.
The Aldrich Company, her landscape design firm (aldrich-landscapes.com), is founded on her knowledge and application of essential principles: consideration for the existing landscape, adherence to the precedent set by a home’s architectural style, the concept that form follows function, a focus on highlighting the five senses and establishing sustainability, in terms of green practices as well as standing the test of time.
Raised in Hancock Park, one of Los Angeles’ old established neighborhoods, Alida grew up surrounded by large estates filled with majestic gardens not that different
from the properties she designs in our area. She says she developed her sense of art from her father, film director Robert Aldrich, whose studio was responsible for such classics as The Dirty Dozen and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.
Alida says, “I’m adamant that landscape design be seen as an art form, like painting, music, literature; you have to learn your craft.” To that end, she studied landscape design at UCLA, a field that integrated her artistic aesthetic, interest in architecture and keen sense of attention to detail. A career move brought Alida to Santa Barbara; she worked at the El Encanto Hotel and the San Ysidro Ranch.
There is no doubt that these properties, known for their stunning gardens, inspired her to take on a project that set her on course to establish her landscape design practice. “I had a friend who bought Riven Rock’s original stonemason’s cottage. It was once part of the 87-acre McCormick Estate, located at the confluence of Cold Springs and Hot Springs creeks and featured a large, two-story Mission Revival-style house of stone. He asked me to help design the gardens, which were completely overgrown. We’d remove vegetation and come across beautiful stone sculpture works that were cast off as “seconds.” We re-purposed them as pieces of art throughout the gardens. The beauty of it was creating landscaping to incorporate the magnificent oak trees that Riven Rock is noted for and make it sought after real estate. The property went from abandoned acreage with a stone workshop to a showpiece; an elegant home that people raved about. Alida’s hard work paid off, earning her a coveted Montecito Beautification award that year. “At the time, I didn’t realize the importance of it and how it would shape the next phase of my career.”
Alida’s work in Riven Rock didn’t end there. She went on to reimagine the gardens surrounding the McCormick Estate’s “theatre,” which had been transformed into a separate residence many years ago. The owners entrusted her with the goal of creating a larger outdoor space in the rear garden for entertaining guests.
These accomplishments led Alida to work on George Washington Smith’s self-designed residence, which also housed the office for his architecture practice. She was tasked with reinvigorating the grounds of “Casa Del Greco,” contributing to the property’s reputation as a shining example of Smith’s Spanish Colonial Revival style. Since the estate’s main house and guest house were circa 1924, Alida spent time doing research to understand the original “feel” and conceptual design for the estate. She studied archival photographs at UCSB and applied her findings into the landscape blueprints. When reflecting on the results, Alida says it was “Definitely one of my proudest feathers in my cap!”
While she has worked on a number of properties with Spanish Colonial homes, Alida points out that, “I don’t have a particular style that I stick with. I’ve done historical Montecito estates, traditional gardens Mediterranean gardens, seaside gardens, tropical gardens and contemporary gardens. I borrow shapes, colors and material used in the architecture of the home - they need to match - and apply them in the plant selections and hardscapes. I incorporate basic principles of landscape design: line, form, texture, color, visual weight, proportion - all to give the homeowner a sense of place.”
The Aldrich Company has won awards from Santa Barbara Beautiful, Montecito Beautiful and Houzz, and has been featured in Sunset, the Los Angeles Times and on social media (Pinterest, Houzz, Facebook, Instagram). For Alida, however, no project is too small or modest for her to undertake. She has been known to work pro bono as a way to give back to the community she loves. “As a Montecito local who lives along Romero Creek, I, too, had to evacuate after the 1/8 Debris Flow in 2018. I was out of my cottage for 3+ months. Upon returning, I volunteered my design/installation services to renovate the two front cottage gardens on my property that were completely wiped out.” Another way Alida is making herself accessible to local residents is by teaching an upcoming fall course on the “Principles of Landscape Design” presented by Santa Barbara City College Center for Lifelong Learning. She says she’s looking forward to providing people with proven ways to create the landscape of their dreams.
Alida says her vision and passion - the fruit of her labor - are landscape projects that represent a total portrait that embraces respect for the land, local environments, ecosystems and interactions between native flora and fauna. She points out that, “The plants, birds, animals and insects are not just there for our pleasure; we share the planet with them. The whole picture is important for a sustainable garden.” She carefully selects plantings and hardscapes based on timeless appeal and longevity. She recalls “A number of clients have kept me on for overseeing quality control maintenance by conducting monthly walk throughs with gardeners. This is key for protecting the look and feel of the design. Hands-on walk throughs on a regular basis are paramount for guaranteeing integrity and sustainability.
I did a project in Montecito 17 years ago and I’ve been called back to do a refresh. This happens often, a compliment and testament to the quality of the work and great client relationships.” Alida says that her life and work are defined by her reverence for the natural world and her interactions with people. She shares that, “I’m protective of relationships with people here; we are neighbors, some clients become friends. Montecito is a is a small place. When I interview with a client, I know I’m interviewing them as well as them interviewing me. There must be a mutual meeting of the minds between designer and client. Being entrusted to care for their land is something I take very seriously. I have built a team of trusted craftsmen that understand, interpret and implement the client’s vision represented in my design.
I hold them in high regard; I can’t ask for a better professional family with which to work.”
When it’s time to relax, Alida says, “Because of how I grew up, I know all about movies; I like them all and enjoy watching them. I’m a big walker. Where else can you go for a hike in the mountains in the AM and sit on the beach at lunch? Montecito is quite an extraordinary place. There is something unique about the Fung Shui between the peaks and the sea. I’ve lived in my cottage for nearly 20 years. I love the scale, the oaks, the creek, the frogs, the rural feeling. Every day I focus on how unusual and special Montecito is. It’s peaceful, alive and vibrant; it’s a blessing.”
Fresh herbs from your own garden are easy to grow and essential to flavoring meals. Once you've tried your own home-grown herbs, you won't want to go back to your dried spice rack!
Plant outside once the soil warms -- night-time temperatures should be over 50ºF. Basil thrives in warm weather, in full sun and with regular water. Use organic amendment and mulch around the base.
Harvest your basil often - the best time to do so is in the early morning. Cut off the flowering stems to keep the plant bushy. Freeze or dry the basil leaves to preserve.
Many pests also love the taste of basil. Pick off pests, or use horticultural oil, insecticidal soap or neem oil to thwart hungry garden visitors.
Plant in the full sun in well-drained soil. Water sparingly but regularly during the growing season and keep in mind Rosemary will spread quickly if it's in a warm climate similar to its Mediterranean habitat. In areas where it freezes regularly, keep Rosemary in a pot and bring indoors (overwinter in USDA hardiness zones 6 and lower). Trim Rosemary after flowering to keep it in nice form. Snip off sprigs and air dry to use later.
The best type for cooking is Greek Oregano (Origanum vulgare var. hirtum). Plant seeds or cuttings of Oregano after the last spring frost. The soil should be around 70ºF and well-drained. This hardy plant loves full sun and moderate to light water. The best time to harvest is prior to flowering. Freeze or dry the leaves for future use.
Parsley is usually grown from seed. Start indoors 10 weeks before the last frost, or outside 3 weeks before the last frost to get a head start, or start them when the soil warms. Parsley can take up to 3 weeks to sprout. Sow in rich soil, 6 - 8 inches apart. As they grow, water evenly and regularly. When you see leaf stems with three segments, cut leaves from the outer portions to harvest. To store, either air dry or stick fresh segments in a glass of water and place in the fridge.
Plant sage in full sun. Sage can be sown as seeds, propagated from cuttings, or directly planted. Sage grows best in full sun with well-draining soil. This culinary herb makes a versatile kitchen and ornamental plant outdoors in the ground or in a pot. Sow seeds or plant cuttings up to 2 weeks before the last spring frost.
Water the growing plants regularly to establish their root systems. Once plants are mature, moderate to light water will suffice. Mature plants will benefit from being pruned of heavy wood each spring. Harvest sparingly from immature plants and taper off harvesting as fall approaches. Freeze or air dry the leaves/sprigs for future use.
The Aldrich Company is proud to announce that Alida Aldrich, its principal designer, has recently joined The Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara. The foundation’s mission is to educate the community about the importance of Santa Barbara’s unique architecture and how it has shaped the region’s history.
To see plants suited to our region, a stroll through Alice Keck Park or our Botanic Garden is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon while gathering inspiration.
Don’t forget seasonal feeding and putting down mulch – both are very important for a healthy, vibrant garden.
Summer is the time for outdoor entertaining! Is your garden ready for company?