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.”