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El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park

Heritage Gardens

The Presidio’s gardens are a living, growing window into life in early California. The gardens were created in 2001, when archaeologist Mike Imwalle started the Presidio Heritage Plant Project with a heritage Spanish colonial grape. Since then we have planted several heritage trees, and dozens of varieties of plants that were grown by the early Spanish settlers of Santa Barbara. The gardens now fill the rear yards of the Presidio Northeast Corner, and also appear around El Cuartel and behind the Visitors Center. The gardens add to the experience at the Presidio by providing a vivid image of daily life in early California that visitors can see, smell, touch, and sometimes even taste. The Presidio’s plants provided food, such as the first flour tortillas from White Sonora Wheat, red dye from cochineal on the Prickly Pear cactus, ladles for food and water from hollowed dipper gourds, and many other products that supported life for the soldados and their families. 


Creating and maintaining these gardens involves a broad community effort. Plants are obtained from a variety of sources, including Jerry Sortomme at the Santa Barbara Mission Huerta Project. Volunteers have made the Presidio’s gardens possible and have helped them become a resource for the entire Santa Barbara community. Countless community members, including students from nearby Anacapa School and volunteers with the United Way’s Day of Caring Program, have helped with planting and maintenance of the garden.


One of the most attractive qualities of a garden is that it never looks exactly the same any time you visit. The video above was filmed during late summer 2011, when tomatoes, peppers and corn were ready for harvest and Sonora wheat had dried in the field. Something is blooming in the garden at every time of the year. What will it look like on your next visit?

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