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So You Think You're In Montecito, Eh?
updated: Mar 27, 2010, 10:00 AM
By Billy Goodnick
If you tell your out of town friends you'll meet them in Montecito for lunch, there's a cool factor. It carries the aura of Loggins, Oprah, Cleese, Lowe, Reithman, Winters, and the dearly departed, very much missed, Julia Child.
But if you meet them at the Montecito Inn or Lucky's on Coast Village Road, you've fibbed. That's because you'd be in the city limits of Santa Barbara.
Do you see that little appendix protruding from the lower-left part of the map? Yep, CVR is within the municipal boundary.
I took a stroll there the other day, seeking signs of horticultural enlightenment. As you'll see, I was richly rewarded. I barely found anything for my Crimes Against Horticulture files! Well, there were a couple, but I'm gonna play nice today.
In terms of plants, the first thing that impressed me about Coast Village Road is the canopy - full grown eucalyptus trees and queen palms are the dominant vegetation.
Leanne Michael Floral and Interiors, at 1150 CVR, resides next to the scrumptious Montecito Deli (I always go to for the panini and salad combo). Leanne effervesces, and her eye for displaying succulents and flowers is spot on.
Inside the shop I found a giddy mix of interior design items, but I'm a garden kinda guy, so I just breezed through the shops and headed for the terrace. What caught my eye was the slightly chaotic collection of garden stuff: functional, whimsical and dripping with what my mom used to call "character". If you're looking for something really unique to add a personal brand to your own garden, check Leanne's fountains, exotic birdcages, lovingly weathered chairs, pots and baskets.
Down the street is Cava, my favorite restaurant that still haven't eaten in. They have a stellar reputation for serving creative cuisine, drawing from the traditions of Spain, Mexico, and South America, but they give it a "Nuevo Latin" twist. I'm sure that when I finally get there, I'll enjoy the food. But last week it was all about this potted "floral" bouquet of curly-leaf echeveria, hen and chicks, and well-tanned Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives', backed by Spanish lavender and rosemary.
A few steps to the east is where the horticultural adventures begin.
I wait all year for Pride of Madeira (Echium fastuosum) to bloom. There's something magical and muscular about its display. Echium is not a plant to be plopped down willy-nilly: It has kind of a James Dean, live-fast-die-young life cycle, behaving more like a steroid-pumped perennial than a shrub. When Pride of Madeira is not in flower, it's coarse and rugged looking, needs little water, no fertilizer, and laughs in the face of pests! Like many of us, it gets gawky with age, so place it to the rear of a large planting bed in plenty of sunshine. When the cobalt blue blooms pop, you have an instant conversation piece in your landscape that lasts for weeks.
Time to move along. I found this fine specimen of honey bush (Melianthus major) nearby. I can't help but imagine a cute little herbivorous baby dinosaur nibbling on the blue-gray serrated leaves. The springtime treat is the chestnut brown flower heads that poke above the foliage on fleshy pink stems, like question marks. Buyers beware: I tried growing this in my garden for a few years, but the white fly had their way. These, however, had no trace of those bad boys.
You've probably seen this grass-like visual explosion in a lot of landscapes over the past decade. South Africa is the home of a family of plants called restios (Restionaceae), which includes cape reed (Chondropetalum tectorum, not to be mistaken for its more robust cousin, C. elephantinum). They do a marvy job of animating the façade of the Warner Group's architectural offices. I'm always a sucker for understatement, and the designer nailed it with a series of matching tall white containers. Very understated.
Okay, I couldn't help myself. Just one crime against horticulture, please? I don't know if the gardeners for this otherwise nicely landscaped building are bipolar, or the management company unleashed a hit team of Neanderthal brutes, but I was viscerally assaulted by the boneheaded hacking of these poor dudes. Now I'm ready to move on.
At the easternmost end of Coast Village Road, you can still find part of the slowly eroding breed of locally owned, small-scale, horticulturally rich nurseries. Turk Hessellund Nursery, presently owned and operated by master plantsman, Ray Sodomka, will be folding its tent after more than 30 years, and quietly stealing away by summer 2011. The nursery reflects Ray's adventurous spirit toward plants, with many off-the-beaten-path varieties you're certainly not going to find at corporately run stores.
There's no shortage of color on the annual and perennial table. When someone says, "It's spring", this is what it should look like.
There's a noticeable disparity between the two sides of Coast Village Road. Except for Hessellund's, all these pictures were taken on the sunnier, north side of the street, but even accounting for the shade, with a few exceptions, it just looks like landscaping wasn't a priority. What I enjoyed most about my stroll back to the car was the wildness of Santa Barbara's ever-present sandstone, and the softness of eucalyptus foliage.
Coast Village Road is a step back in time. Most of the buildings haven't changed in decades, and unlike other commercial areas, the scale is very human. There's a lot of beauty, too. So who cares if it's "really" Montecito or not?
Leanne Michael Florals & Interiors
More reading: The Men Who Made Montecito Bloom, by Elaine Griscom
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