Cristal's Blog


February 28, 2022

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California’s Hard to Find Hidden Treasure is Well Worth the Effort

Ojai is known for its nature-centric vibe mixed with a thriving culture and art scene. Perhaps the best place to experience the essence of this unique place is by exploring Ojai’s Taft Gardens & Nature Preserve. 

One of the meandering paths at the Taft Gardens & Nature Preserve

Image courtesy of Taft Gardens & Nature Preserve

Just finding this place is an adventure. The entrance is not listed on Google maps or anywhere else on the internet. The only directions are sent via email after you make the necessary reservations at least a day in advance. But the secrecy surrounding the location of this shady garden of South African, Australian and California native plants only makes a visit there all the more enticing. 

The nonprofit Conservation Endowment Fund owns and operates the Taft Gardens, which is open to the public only a few hours a day on Tuesdays through Saturdays. Its mission is to preserve endangered resources, educate the public about our environmental heritage, and explore the relationship of humans to their environment, especially when it comes to the land in Santa Ana Canyon.

A huge succulent next to a work of art in an Ojai garden

Image courtesy of Taft Gardens & Nature Preserve

The History

The Taft Gardens and Nature Preserve was founded by businessman John Taft. In 1981, he purchased 265 acres in the Topa Topa Mountains as a kind of experiment to see land and the world with new and different eyes.

Then, in 1985, the Wheeler Fire ravaged the area. But that didn’t stop Taft from completing his vision. On a trip to South Africa, he returned with quantities of seed, and enlisted the aid of landscape architect and South African plant expert Lawrence Nicklin to help bring his idea to life. Next, he coaxed world-renowned horticulturalist Jo O’Connell to relocate to Ojai, a better place to establish his goal of adding an Australian Garden component. And today, his vision is alive and well.

Two deer in tan Ojai nature preserve

Image courtesy of Taft Gardens & Nature Preserve

The Gardens

Featuring 15 acres of curated gardens, this is the place visitors can meander along well-maintained paths and learn about the majesty of nature and its complexities. Hand-painted botanical tiles mark the path of docent guided tours through the garden, with its sculptures and curated art pieces inspiring each visitor to explore the connection between themselves and their environment.

Something is sweetly innocent about this secret garden. The lack of traffic noise allows visitors to focus on listening to the birdsong that brings the otherworldly trees, native oaks, bulbs, grasses, succulents, and shrubs to life. The best time to visit is in the spring when many of the plants are in bloom and the place is dripping in vibrant color. A visit any time of the year is inspiring, however, especially in the heat of the summer when it’s hard to believe anything green can still be alive in the dry hills.

Art in Nature

The Taft Gardens purposely adds art pieces throughout the garden for a reason. And the reason is simple yet powerful: art illuminates the vision of growth and understanding of ourselves and others through beauty in the natural world. That belief is at the heart of the Taft.

Healthy succulents with rolling hills, blue sky and white fluffy clouds.

Image courtesy of Taft Gardens & Nature Preserve

Nature Immersion
To really capture the essence of this place, it is recommended that visitors take the guided tour. If you’re lucky, certified Association of Nature & Forest Therapy Guide (ANFT) Elena Rios will bring to life the ancient human practice of connecting to nature reflected in indigenous knowledge all over the world. But any of the docents are knowledgeable and passionate about this very unique place.

The Nature Preserve/Native California Open Space Restoration

The Nature Preserve consists of almost 200 acres of California open land surrounding the cultivated gardens. That open land borders the Los Padres National Forest and provides safe passage for wildlife including California condors, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, tule elk, bighorn sheep, Mule deer, black bear, wild boar, Pronghorn Antelope and Tule Elk as well as more than 30 species of endangered plants. The Conservation Endowment Fund’s Wildlife Conservation Easement with the Humane Society's Wildlife Land Trust protects this land and prohibits agricultural uses that would pollute the watershed.

Flowers in bloom at the Taft Gardens from succulents

Image courtesy of Taft Gardens & Nature Preserve

Artist Residency Program

Artists can apply for Taft’s eight-month Artist Residency program. With full studio and garden access throughout, these chosen few can take time in thoughtful reflection with the purpose of perfecting their work.

Healing Garden

In partnership with Valor Healing Farms, Taft Gardens also has a healing garden created especially for the military community. Here, veterans, active duty, caregivers, families and first responders can experience the healing power of nature through farming internships, therapeutic horticulture, sustainable gardening, and animal-assisted therapy. The ultimate vision of this program is to build community gardens in other places where military and veterans can live and enjoy healthy food option while taking part in wellness and therapeutic experiences.

Now you know that when exploring Ojai gardens, the Taft Gardens & Nature Preserve should be at the top of your list. It is also available as a venue for a respite, retreat, ceremony, or creative project of any kind.

Meanwhile, if you’re thinking of moving or buying in Ojai or any of the communities in and around Santa Barbara, I invite you to call me at (805) 886-9378, or send me an email at for a complimentary consultation.

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- J & A

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- M.F.

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- P.B.

“We have used Cristal now several times and cannot express how grateful we are for her expertise, dedication, and unwavering support throughout the entire home-buying process. Cristal is knowledgeable, patient and attentive. Her attention to detail is remarkable, and she consistently went above and beyond to provide us with all the information and resources we needed to make informed decisions. Cristal is a skillful negotiator and advocate. She can navigate complex negotiations with professionalism and grace and felt like a true partner to us in the home-buying process. Cristal has a genuine passion for real estate and a deep commitment to her clients' satisfaction. I cannot speak highly enough of Cristal and her exceptional service. She is a true expert in her field and her dedication to excellence, combined with unwavering support is the reason we choose to work with her for all our real estate buying needs.”

- T.C.

“Cristal is a top-notch realtor who sold my home before it ever went on the market. I had two competing offers that enabled me to get top dollar for my home. Not only is Cristal superb but her team is extraordinary. I cannot say enough about Cristal and her team. They are simply phenomenal, the consummate professionals, who took care of every possible detail, making the sale and transition period, smooth from our end. They are also lovely, caring people, who knew all the right professionals, to get the job done. Thank you, everyone!”

- D.R.

“I could list lots of cool adjectives to describe Cristal. All good by the way. But, that is not why I or anyone should hire Cristal. My reason for hiring her, which proved to be correct, is very simple. She got the job done. And, she does it time and time again and with zero issues. And, that is why she is one of the top agents in the country. End of subject. ”

- M.A.

“Working with Cristal was a complete pleasure. Cristal was extremely patient with us as we evaluated nearly 2 dozen homes over a span of 2 years. Her knowledge of the market is unmatched. Cristal provided us with exceptional counsel as we evaluated opportunities and negotiated pricing. The closing process was handled thoroughly and efficiently. We could not be happier with our purchase and even more happy to now call Cristal our friend.”

- D.K.

“Cristal Clarke has conducted numerous real estate transactions for me beginning 13 years ago with the purchase of a Lemon Ranch. She has handled both large and small purchases and sales with equal dedication. As a negotiator, you can’t find anyone better. Her transactions are always conducted in the most appropriate and professional manner. Cristal has considerable knowledge of the Santa Barbara market.”

- S.N. Decker Ph.D.

“Living in Europe, we were to say the least, unaccustomed to the nuances of Real Estate acquisition in California and Cristal steered us through the process with absolute professionalism and personal attention to detail at every turn. Her in-depth knowledge of the market place combined with enthusiasm and drive was the only reason we secured the property of our dreams and will be forever grateful. If you are looking for personal discrete and private representation of the highest quality we suggest you look no further than Cristal Clarke.”

- Johan and Paula van den Berg

“Cristal is very straightforward, cheerful, helpful, professional and trustworthy….we felt very lucky to work with her.”

- John and Lacey Williams

“After considering our many choices, we are grateful it was Cristal Clarke of Sotheby’s International who represented the sale of our Montecito cottage. We are familiar with Cristal’s reputation of hard work and dedication to clients, but it was her attention to detail that made our experience so positive. She offered suggestions for staging the property, worked in harmony with potential buyers and was even able to secure back up offers. The sale of our cottage was completed much sooner than we expected, due in great part to Cristal’s professional skills and support. We highly recommend Cristal as a first choice for anyone needing representation with real estate.”

- Michael & Nancy Lee

“Our experience in working with Cristal Clarke resulted in the successful and discrete acquisition of a property which was not yet on the open market. Her knowledge of the Montecito/Santa Barbara area and vast expertise blended with her passion for real estate and architecture, provided us with the very highest level of professionalism and personalized services. Cristal exhibited a rare combination of excellent communications, attention to detail, creativity and patience.”

- Richard and Catherine Frinier

“Cristal really breaks the mold. She knows every nook and cranny of this real estate market, understands value, and follows up on everything, all the time. She was incredibly patient with our two year quest to find the perfect house. Every house hunting trip from across the country was well planned, and our time was never wasted. On top of her professionalism and expertise, she is delightful to spend time with. We are thrilled with the home we purchased, and grateful to Cristal for so wisely advising us through this process, right through to the close and beyond.”

- Laurie Siegel

“We met Cristal first in the course of renting a winter home (for three years), then buying a house using her as our agent. She was amazingly good at listening to our wants and showing us homes that fit our needs. Her mastery of the paperwork was perfect. Most importantly, there was never a situation where we doubted her straightforwardness or integrity. If we do another real estate transaction in Montecito (which I doubt, we’re happy with what we purchased), without question we’d use Cristal again.”

- Ken Saffir

“Susan and I just want to thank you for your efforts in the sale of our home. You are really quite amazing. Your competence, persistence, optimism and humor made the entire process effortless. Every problem that arose, you somehow fixed; any obstacle, you overcame. We have bought and sold many homes. It has never been such a painless and enjoyable process!”

- Michael & Susan Marquart

“A little something about “our” realtor, Cristal Clarke. My wife and I came to Santa Barbara about fifteen years ago looking for a seasonal home from which to enjoy the weather and amenities of the central coast. Being in the real estate business myself I was familiar with agents and brokers so entered the market with open eyes. We “flipped” a few houses in the early years, dealing with various agents and finally ended up in Montecito. That’s when good fortune put us together with Cristal. To say we were impressed is to put it mildly. Cristal really knows the market. She is familiar with the area, its history and trends. When we have questions about a particular property she either has the answers immediately or gets back to us by phone or email. There is no waiting or wondering with Cristal. She is an agent who is “on top of it.” Her recommendations as to price points, contractors, inspectors and title agents have proven to be exceptional, showing great insight and the highest professional standards. We consider ourselves exceedingly fortunate to say that Cristal Clarke is our realtor and would recommend her services to any serious buyer or seller.”

- Rob & Judi Kelch