Mariposa Gardens

Mariposa Gardens is a 4-acre private residential multi-generational family estate designed for seamless indoor-outdoor living, the enjoyment of art, and the reverence of nature. Located in Montecito, Santa Barbara, California, the site is situated within a Coast-Live oak woodland on a gentle slope from the Santa Ynez Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

The gardens celebrate the act of working with nature through sensible cultivation and knowing what thrives in this place to bring out the true spectacle of nature’s beauty. Equal parts legacy and fresh inspiration, the gardens are curated to delight the visitor over time in many acts, both along the procession of walking the gardens and the seasonal changes. The client describes the result as “extraordinary and elegant.”

The property presents pockets of surprises and extends the theme of the site’s George Washington Smith home and Lockwood de Forest III heritage gardens. Inspired by the Spanish Colonial Revival style, the landscape returns this era to glory with modern sensibilities.

The various gardens are curated with a high level of horticultural and botanical intervention, featuring many unique, rare, climate-appropriate plants to enhance its original California chaparral habitat. California coast live oak trees encircle the estate and frame walkways and garden rooms. Coast Rosemary and Little Ollies reinterpret the heritage of the formal boxwood borders. A yellow garden calls to the distant mountain backdrop and its native palette inviting pollinators and a splash of sunshine.

A contemporary Latin American sculpture amplifies the Spanish heritage and its multi-cultural present. The meditation deck invites the whole family to share moments of peace.

Mariposa Gardens integrates climate-resilient and sustainable strategies, including measures to protect the soil, natural methods of water management, and landscape practices that protect the home and gardens against wildfires.

Taking Care of Soil Ecology: Nutrient-dense soil is the foundation of a resilient garden. Our approach increased the organic matter to create healthy soil that feeds the plants naturally and stores water. Thick layers of organic mulch further protect the soil and moisture level.

An Integrated Pest Management plan, an ecosystem-based strategy used to solve pest problems, allows the site’s management to eliminate the use of pesticides while minimizing risks to people and the environment. Nonchemical methods, such as the use of natural enemies to control pests, also increase the biology of the soil. All planting areas eliminate the use of leaf blowers to protect the top layer of the soil.

Plant for the Future: The design improves the oak tree canopy by nurturing existing oaks and planting additional oaks. In turn, the continuous canopy increases biodiversity and creates a natural fire-resistance shield for the home. Fire-prone vegetation adjacent to the home was removed as an additional safety measure. In other areas, the cacti and succulent gardens were extended to promote drought tolerance and enhance the fire protection buffer.

Manage Water Naturally: The project is designed to manage excess water on site. Rain gardens dotting the property absorb dry season run-off and capture water runoff to feed the local aquifers. A well at the top of the property is then used for irrigation. To reduce the irrigation demands, graded mounds were designed to distribute water. Low water plants are purposefully planted in higher elevations and medium water plants in lower elevations to take advantage of water flow.

Furthermore, the design intent to reduce water usage included significantly reducing the lawn by a third and replacing them with a wide variety of California native and climate-appropriate plants to increase habitat and strengthen sustainability.

Locally Sourced: The garden pathway sandstone is derived from locally repurposed sandstone boulders reclaimed from the 2018 floods. Furthermore, we took into consideration how to help the clean-up effort and minimize the export of boulders post flood. We worked reclaimed boulders into the site to create terraces and additional pathways for the Adrian Villar-Rojas sculpture garden.

Mariposa Gardens is a labor of love. We listened to the land, our clients, and the site’s heritage to bring this project to fruition. Nothing is permanent, but we can attest to the future of a continued collaboration of reciprocity between art, nature, and daily life.

Landscape Architecture: RIOS

Project Webpage: Mariposa Gardens

Project location: Montecito, California

Design year: 2021

Year Built: 2021

Photography: Holly Lepere

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