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Replenishing the Meadow Oaks at SBBG

December 19, 2012

time-lapse video by John Wardlaw; © 2012 Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

On December 11, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden welcomed two new large, boxed Coast live oak trees (Quercus agrifolia), each greater than 20 feet tall. This important project is the first step towards restoring the beloved Meadow Oaks area that was once a significant component of the Garden’s historic landscape. This area had been used by the Garden for member picnics and other large gatherings since its founding in 1926. In the last 20 years, however, two magnificent oaks and the cover they provided were lost, drastically changing the character and use of the site.

The History of the Meadow Oaks
A grove of mature coast live oaks in all their gnarled beauty has always graced the Garden along the west side of the Meadow. The two trees which formed the canopy for the Meadow Oaks area were lost to old age and disease in 1991 and 2005 respectively. Their removal precipitated the installation of the controversial Meadow Terrace project. In 2011, after considerable community input, the uncompleted Meadow Terrace (deemed to be an inappropriate design for this County Landmark) was removed to comply with the Garden’s new Conditional Use Permit. The Garden recently completed a draft Cultural Landscape Master Plan (to be reviewed by the HLAC on December 10) to guide the Garden in the management of this important landscape.

With generous support from the Santa Barbara Foundation, the Garden hired landscape architects Susan Van Atta and Sydney Baumgartner to develop a plan for the Meadow Oaks area. Their plan closely follows the recommendations in the Cultural Landscape Master Plan, which specifically calls for the replacement of oaks in the exact location of the originals. The Garden is planting the largest specimens that could be feasibly moved to the site without damaging any existing trees.

About the Trees
“Normally we would not recommend planting such large trees due to the expense, and often shorter life span, of trees of this size,” said Steve Windhager, Executive Director of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. “We took great care in selecting to work with Rolla Wilhite of Berylwood Tree Farm in Somis, CA and are confident we have taken all the precautions needed to ensure that these trees have a long, healthy life. This is such a special place in the Garden, we did not feel we could do any less.”

Much attention was given to choosing the specific trees for the site by Director of Horticulture, Betsy Collins and Head Gardener, Dave Kershaw, who toured a wide range of tree suppliers before selecting Berylwood Tree Farm. The Garden’s new trees were grown from acorns at Berylwood, first in the ground, then in a large box. They are now approximately 28 years old. Rolla Wilhite, with over 40 years of experience, is one of the nation’s most respected growers of large boxed trees. Berylwood is widely acknowledged as having one of the best track records in the country for successfully transporting and installing large trees in difficult-to-maneuver locations.