Our Mission & History
The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden fosters the conservation of California's native plants through our gardens, education, and research, and serves as a role model of sustainable practices.
The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden envisions a world where society understands the interdependency between people and plants, and acts to preserve the natural world.
Origins of the Garden
In 1925, the Carnegie Institution suggested a cooperative undertaking with the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History to administer what it envisioned as a botanical garden "...reaching from the sea to the crest of the mountains, connected by a drive lined with trees, shrubs and flowers from all parts of the earth." Plant ecologist Dr. Frederic Clements came to Santa Barbara as Carnegie's representative in search of geographic sites that could be used for experimental plant research. In 1926, this plan became a reality when local philanthropist Anna Dorinda Blaksley Bliss purchased 13 acres in Mission Canyon for the museum, with views spanning from the mountains and the ocean.
This initial gift, a substantial endowment given in 1927, and subsequent acreage given in 1932, provided the foundation for the Blaksley Botanic Garden's creation and first 10 years of operation. In 1939, the Botanic Garden incorporated as a separate organization and was renamed the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. The aim of the founders was to create a garden that would "...unite the aesthetic, educational and scientific." Based on concepts developed by Clements, the garden was originally laid out in various plant communities, such as chaparral, desert, and prairie, with an emphasis on plants from the Pacific slope of North America. Experimental groupings of significant genera such as Ceanothus and Eriogonum (buckwheat) were also displayed for horticultural research and to educate the public. By 1936, this emphasis had narrowed to plants native to the state of California, and now includes northwestern Baja California and southwestern Oregon, which are part of the California Floristic Province.
Preserving a Rich Legacy
In a community that reveres its cultural and architectural heritage, preserving the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden's rich legacy is of great importance. Formal recognition began several years ago when the Garden's Mission Dam was named a State Historic Landmark. To further this preservation effort, the Garden initiated a request for the dam to be designated a Santa Barbara County Landmark, which was granted in 1983.
In 2003, a remarkable partnership between the Garden, the community, and the County of Santa Barbara Historic Landmarks Advisory Commission resulted in the adoption of a resolution granting County Historic Landmark status to 23 of the Garden's 78 acres, the Aqueduct, Indian Steps, Entry Steps, the Information Kiosk, the Caretaker's Cottage, the Blaksley Library, and the Campbell Bridge.
Read more about the rich history of the Garden in "A Garden for All Time: The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden 1926–2005" by Mary Carroll, in Noticias (Winter 2004/Spring 2005), published by the Santa Barbara Historical Society.