Read This: Private Gardens of Santa Barbara: The Art of Outdoor Living


March 09, 2020

Stuck at home fretting about coronavirus? Luckily we gardeners have our gardens to occupy us, soothe our minds, and even feed us during times like these. But reading about beautiful gardens and learning design from a master is also a great way to while away the hours, especially if it’s not quite spring where you live. For all these reasons, I urge you, especially if you garden in the arid West and Southwest, to pick up a copy of Private Gardens of Santa Barbara: The Art of Outdoor Living by Margie Grace (Gibbs Smith, 2020).

Photograph by Holly Lepere, courtesy of Grace Design Associates

Don’t be misled by the title: although the featured gardens are located in tony Santa Barbara, California, the design lessons are powerful for gardeners in any similarly water-challenged or wildfire-threatened region. Hello, Central Texas! In fact, far from being just a coffee-table book of “secret” or “hidden” gardens, the book is really a monograph of the work of Margie Grace, an award-winning designer and principal of Santa Barbara-based Grace Design. In conversational first-person voice, she narrates the story of each garden’s design, from the owner’s wish list to her initial impression of the property to the smart design moves that make each space functional and beautiful, not to mention as eco-friendly as possible.

Photograph by Holly Lepere, courtesy of Grace Design Associates

You won’t find emerald-green, water-hogging lawns featured here. Instead, Grace plants light-catching native grasses and waterwise succulents to embroider and beautify fire-defensible spaces of gravel or stone patios around the homes. Catering to Southern California’s indoor-outdoor climate, she layers her gardens with comfortable seating, rustic tub-style spas, propane-burning fire pits, and glorious, glorious plants — all reasons to spend as much time as possible outdoors. These are gardens for people to live in.

Photograph by Holly Lepere, courtesy of Grace Design Associates

Her designs run playful at times, like this “Purple Rain” garden at her own home. Two eggplant-colored, circular arbors (the Gracie Modern Arbor by TerraTrellis), sparkling with strands of light-reflecting mirrors, act as portals through a meadowy sedge lawn and frame a quirky pair of leaf-shaped metal chairs.

Photograph by Holly Lepere, courtesy of Grace Design Associates

I pored over each photo of the 18 private gardens featured in this book, taking mental notes on how to blend rock and plants, make inviting patios, plant up gorgeous pots of succulents, and visually extend indoor living spaces and porches out into the garden. So you and I don’t have eye-popping Pacific Ocean views from our own gardens? That’s OK. We each make our own garden views, and this book offers lots of inspiration for any gardener.

Disclosure: Gibbs Smith sent me a copy of Private Gardens of Santa Barbara for review. I reviewed it at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion.

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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

I’m giving a keynote talk at the Texas Master Gardener Conference in Waco, Texas, on May 13 from 10:45 a.m. to 12 noon: “Sod Busting: 8 Great Ideas for Your Yard After Digging Up the Lawn.” If you’re a Texas master gardener who’s registered for the conference, I hope to see you there!

Mark your calendar for the May 16th Inside Austin Gardens Tour hosted by the Travis County Master Gardeners. Six private gardens in and around Austin will offer opportunities to learn about drought/deluge-tolerant, Earth-Kind® landscaping and butterfly, herb, vegetable, and succulent gardening.

Join the mailing list for Garden Spark! Hungry to learn about garden design from the experts? I’m hosting a series of talks by inspiring garden designers, landscape architects, and authors a few times a year. Held in Austin, the talks are limited-attendance events that sell out quickly, so join the Garden Spark email list to be notified in advance. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2020 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

My article about Colorado pollinator garden is in Country Gardens


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