10-acre Montecito estate garden near Lotusland

More from the 2019 Bromeliad Summit in Santa Barbara, which took place from April 4-7, 2019. 

On the final day of the Bromeliad Summit, we visited an estate garden in Montecito not far from Lotusland. I'm sure everybody has a slightly different idea of what an “estate” is, but in my book, 10 acres in one of the priciest zip codes in the country certainly qualifies.

10 acres is 435,600 square feet. That's 53 times the size of our lot (8,145 sq.ft.). In fact, the house on this estate is larger than our entire lot. According to public records, the house (actually, “home” would probably be a more appropriate word) is 11,160 sq.ft., compared to 8,145 sq.ft. for our lot.

What I'm trying to say: I was in a completely different world. I knew it when about halfway down the seemingly endless driveway we passed a structure which at first glance appeared to be a house. Looking closer, I realized it was a massive garage—with eight garage doors, so room for at least that many cars. And when we got to the actual residence, I saw that it had its own three-car garage. This is one car-loving family!

We were met in the entrance courtyard by landscape architect Derrik Eichelberger of Arcadia Studio, the principal designer of the garden. He wasn't at liberty to say who the owners are, but he did indicate that they live here only part-time, a few months out of the year. (Whatever reaction you just had, I had the same.)

Derrik took us on a walking tour of the sprawling grounds (ten acres is ten acres) and talked about the distinctly different gardens. I could have learned a lot from Derrik if I had listened carefully, but there were so many things to distract me that both my mind and my body began to drift.

As a result, I can't tell you much about the gardens or the estate in general. Instead, I'll invite you to look at the 70+ photos in this post and simply enjoy the visuals.

Courtyard (through archway)

Archway from inside the courtyard with flowering Beaucarnea recurvata (left) and Agave guiengola

Agave guiengola

Variegated yucca and aloes

Not sure which yucca species this is, possibly Yucca elephantipes

Aloidendron barberae and cycads

This is the kind of pathway I'd love to have

Closer shot of the cycads from above

One of my favorite vignettes. The wall on the left is the back of the building from the photo above.

I've rarely seen a clump of Agave attenuata looking so good

The extension of the area above

One of the signature plants of this garden: Agave franzosinii

I love it when something so humble as a lemon tree gets its moment to shine

Another Agave franzosinii rising from a sea of Senecio serpens

The Agave franzosinii from the previous photo is right behind the woman (or, from her perspective, in front of her). The green agaves along the bottom are Agave mitis.

Different angle of the scene above

Aloes, too

The light was harsh but it also created beautiful drama

Imagine lying on the ground...

...and looking up!

A mirrored pair of greenhouses on either side of a reflecting pool (you'll see it from the other side in a little bit)

Bamboo and clivias

Clay urn with a bright orange bromeliad contrasting with a redbud just starting to flower and a hazelnut with signature catkins

Another signature plant: Alcantarea imperialis

The lighting on this cycad couldn't have been more theatrical

Vining aloe (Aloiampelos ciliaris) on bridge railing

Yellow-flowering Clivia miniata and Furcraea foetida

Another vignette I loved: purple Cordyline australis and Strelitzia nicolai

Wisteria adorning another railing

As unforgiving and unflattering the midday sun can be, it also creates visual drama

This lemon tree couldn't have been lit better

Reflecting pool lined by plantings of Senecio serpens. Allee of Agave franzosinii in the top third of the photo.

Reflecting pond with mirrored pair of greenhouses. You saw them from the back earlier.

Row of Agave franzosinii

Unexpected juxtaposition with orange tree

But not with just one orange tree...

...but with an entire grove!

Agave salmiana with very wide leaves

This orange tree is about as perfect as it gets

These short pillars were completed wrapped with succulents

Agave 'Sharkskin' appearing to float on a sea of Senecio serpens

Another Agave 'Sharkskin' pushing a flower stalk

Another wide-leaved Agave salmiana

Great textures here next to the garage

Agave salmiana combined with copper-colored sedges (Carex sp.). I'm usually partial to blue grasses, but this is a head turner. Too bad carex needs a fairly moist soil to thrive—not usually the kind of condition agaves like.

Another elegant cycad

Expansive spaces need large plants. This massive philodendron in a massive container fits the bill. On the right, Furcraea foetida 'Variegata'.

Perfectly layered, perfectly maintained

If I saw this photo taken out of context, I'd think of southern Florida. So lush!

Coral tree (Erythrina sp.) at the edge of the enormous lawn next to the house

Succulent garden bordering the lawn


...in all shapes and sizes

Euphorbia ammak 'Variegata' (the creamy white “cactus” in the back), Cleistocactus straussii (front), Madagascar ocotillo (Alluaudia procera)  on the left

Agave americana 'Striata'

This sylvan area is perpendicular to the succulent garden above. The contrast couldn't be greater.

Agave attenuata and Clivia miniata, who would have thought!

I was glad to see Agave attenuata used so liberally. I know some people in Southern California don't think much of it because it's so common there, but I have a soft spot for it (in our neck of the woods, we have to go extra lengths to protect it in the winter).

St Francis found a great spot

This photo gives you a good idea of the size of the trees. The path on the left...

...leads to a tree fern garden

The size of the tree ferns belies the age of the landscaping...

...which was put in less than 10 years ago

Another beautiful specimen of Alcantarea imperialis

And one more! I overheard several people in our group asking where they can buy Alcantarea imperialis. Answer: in a tropical plant nursery, or mail order from a bromeliad grower. It's probably much easier to find in Florida than in California.

Say what you will, but few plants can rival bougainvillea for brilliant color

In places like Santa Barbara you see fences, walls, and even entire structures covered with bougainvillea. Personally, I think a little bit goes a long way. That's why this vignette is so successful.

A few more woody scenes...

...to say goodbye

The shadow of Lotusland, just minutes away, looms large over this garden. To their credit, the designers drew inspiration from Lotusland and created something that pays homage to Ganna Walska's legacy without being a slave to it. This is a garden where budget appeared to be less important than execution. It's impeccably crafted, and just as impeccably maintained. Madame Walska would have approved!

But in spite of its many impressive qualities and undeniable beauty, there was something elusive that kept me from completely embracing this garden. Maybe it was the personal touch, or rather the lack thereof. I have no idea how much input the homeowners gave or whether Derrick Eichelberger and his team had carte blanche to bring their own vision to life. What I saw looked like an upscale garden design magazine come to life: a virtuoso showcase of style and sophistication. This is a private park made to be admired, but from a respectful distance. Our group strolling through the garden at a leisurely pace, that seemed right: savvy visitors who can appreciate what they see.

As a piece of landscape architecture, this project is truly impressive. As a private space for a family, it's simply too impersonal. But maybe that was exactly what the homeowners wanted, considering this is a part-time residence.


2019 Bromeliad Summit in Santa Barbara

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  1. That is a different world. I'm betting half the vehicles or more in that first garage are trucks, tractors, front-end loaders, and the like. It would take real equipment to keep a garden that big (and with so many huge plants) so immaculate. I'm going to go through these photos again and again; they're some of your best ever.

    1. Nell, that you so much for your kind words! All I do is walk around with my camera and respond to what I see :-).

  2. I'm almost speechless. It's a shame that it's not occupied full-time but then perhaps it's rented out when the owners aren't in residence. I suspect that, if it was lived in by the same people year-round, you might see some of those personal touches you felt were missing creep in.

    1. I bet you're righ about the personal touches. As Kathy said below, a "private hotel."

  3. I couldn't agree more with your assessment of the Lotusland influence. I could see it in many of the vignettes you showed us, but it was discreet enough to allow this garden to stand on it's own merits.We have many similar estates here in Napa Valley-huge homes and landscapes that are not primary residences, but instead elegant private hotels of a sort. Garden maintenance is always done by staff. I loved the Agaves in the orange grove most of all !

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  5. I wonder how many landscapers work there full time.

  6. All it takes is money. Keeping the Clivia clear of fallen Bamboo litter must be a major job.

    I agree: it's perfectly done, but feels impersonal. Entirely different feel from the garden Ruth Bancroft was out getting her hands and knees dirty for 30 years to create.

    I got me that bright orange Brom a few months ago. Aechmea blanchetiana. Great plant!

    1. Aechmea blanchetiana, thanks for the ID. Will look for it. I love the bright orange!

  7. Completely agree with you, Gerhard, on Bougainvillea: best used sparingly. But from what I understand about the plant, it takes quite a bit of work to have just a bit of it, as in the successful Montecito example. (Despite its being a tropical plant, the sparse bright red against stucco is a very Mediterranean effect.)

    1. Pruning the bougainvilleas is just a drop in the bucket, I bet. They must have a permanent staff of gardeners!

  8. Still a Mediterranean effect, but, on closer inspection, that's not stucco, but stone. (As hb says, all it takes is money.)

  9. Holy cow, I wish it were more generally accessible. I think when the budget is no object and primary audience isn't much present it must put the design team in an awkward position. Ultimately they need to guess at what will please that audience and strike a balance with pleasing themselves. Probably the safe path will not be too personal.


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