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Santa Barbara Landscape Design: Complementing Your Home’s Architecture

August 4, 2020

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Spanish The front of a Colonial Revival Beauty on the Santa Barbara Riviera for sale

From Spanish Colonial Revival homes and Victorian and Craftsman beauties, to mid-century modern and contemporary residences, Santa Barbara’s distinctive architecture is greatly enhanced by complementary landscape design. A good illustration of that is seen above in the image of my listing, a Spanish Colonial Revival Beauty on the Santa Barbara Riviera. Built in 1949, the estate sits on approximately 2 bucolic acres with its landscaping including gardens, walking paths and mature trees.

As a whole, Santa Barbara landscape design is as varied as the area’s architecture, terrain and distinct selection of neighborhoods. Properties here are unique: each with its own one-of-a-kind selection of features customized to its owner’s particular tastes.

The region’s geography stretches from the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains to wide swaths of south-facing beaches, while the rich culture and history go back several hundred years. All of that makes Santa Barbara and Montecito fertile ground for distinctive landscaping. Add to that our Mediterranean-like weather pattern that means homeowners can enjoy a long growing season perfect for many kinds of plants from around the world. The happy result for residents is a profusion of unusual and gorgeous Santa Barbara landscape design.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, landscapers and botanists here imported rare and exotic specimens from South America, Australia and Europe. Many estates from that era have been turned into world-class horticultural gems. Some are now non-profits and open to the public, others have been refined and developed further by private homeowners.

Many estates comprise a variety of Southern California environments, from expansive meadows, to interesting canyons, cactus gardens, quiet woodlands, rock gardens, and even redwoods and sequoias. Other Santa Barbara landscape design is the result of a homeowner’s imagination; exemplifying the elegance of Japanese gardens, or the dramatic planting of a single species or color of flora.

No matter what style of architecture your home represents, here are some things to keep in mind when planning your own Santa Barbara landscape design:

Garden Purpose

Style aside, decide what you want to be able to do in your garden. Do you want a comfortable space for entertaining? A children’s play area? Somewhere you can retreat into your own private world? An area to grow herbs or vegetables? Also, if you own a dog, consider where he or she will have free access among any fragile plantings that aren’t raised or fenced. A garden should be beautiful, but don’t forget to make it practical, too.

Scale and Proportion

Regardless of the kind of garden you’re planting, make sure its scale won’t be dwarfed by your house. Conversely, you don’t want your landscaping to swallow your yard. Choose plants that offer the right impact without being overpowering. And remember that plants will grow.

As for adding architectural elements to your garden, such as walls, arbors, walkways, steps and more, there are basic design rules of proportion that have stood the test of time in creating spaces that are pleasing to the eye. The Golden Ratio offers a formula of length to width. This formula appears in everything from the pyramids at Giza to some patterns in nature, like the spiral pattern of leaves. For example, the Golden Rectangle, with a ratio of about 1 to 1.6, would translate into a raised bed measuring 5’ by 8’.

Sight Lines

Part of the pleasure of Santa Barbara's landscape design is being able to see it from inside your house. When you’re planning, take some time to consider the view from your windows. Also, take into consideration whether a plant that’s going to grow tall will block those views.

Here are some of my favorite local architectural and landscaping examples:

Another view of the Spanish Colonial Revival Beauty on the Santa Barbara Riviera, part of Cristal Clarke's portfolio of fine homes for sale

Spanish Colonial Revival

Here’s another view of the landscaping at my listing I mentioned at the top of this post. The property features an expansive lawn, stone walking paths that meander throughout, mature oaks, rose gardens and an orchard with avocado, lime, grapefruit and kumquat trees.

Spanish Colonial Revival is arguably the most prevalent architectural style in the area. That’s not only because of Santa Barbara’s roots as a Spanish mission, but also because this was the style that the city chose to rebuild in after the 1925 earthquake. Red-tiled roofs, stucco and wrought iron detailing are some of the style’s common features, though it must be noted that Spanish Colonial Revival incorporates a wide array of architectural influences, including Pueblo, Moorish, Baroque, and Romanesque.

Garden designs have evolved to complement the Spanish flavor of this prevalent architectural style and you’ll find that many of these homes will have a Mediterranean-inspired landscape. Palms, olive trees and citrus trees are among the unifying elements, all serving as the perfect foil for the residence and having the added advantage of blending well with the native vegetation at the same time.

A lovely craftsman home example

Victorian and Craftsman

It’s not unusual to find English-style gardens surrounding Victorian and Craftsman homes, albeit with a tropical influence in keeping with the natural setting and with modern principles of landscape design. Just head to the "Bungalow Haven District of Santa Barbara," roughly bound by Victoria Street on the south, Colina Lane on the east, East Micheltorena Street, and De la Vista Avenue on the north, and Olive Street on the west. The area is filled with prime examples of modest, one-story, bungalow, frame houses, most designed in the Craftsman, Folk Victorian, and Spanish Colonial Revival styles.

Would-be buyers interested in the real estate Santa Barbara has to offer will also find quite a few homes from the very eclectic Victorian period. There are elaborate Queen Annes and Italianate houses as well as elegant French Second Empire residences and homes that boast a blend of the myriad influences and building trends of the age.

A European-Inspired Montecito Contemporary Estate for sale

Mid-Century Modern and Contemporary

An overview of the region’s different home and garden styles wouldn’t be complete without mentioning its notable collection of mid-century modern and contemporary homes. Take the European-Inspired Montecito Contemporary Estate pictured above. The grounds are filled with mature oaks, succulent gardens and other drought-tolerant landscaping. Beyond a modest lawn, the new owners can enjoy a magical spot under a charming pergola, with views of the picturesque home and its backdrop of the dramatic Santa Ynez Mountains.

Echoing the sleek and minimalist aesthetic of this architectural style, rock gardens and Asian-inspired landscapes are popular when it comes to the surrounding landscape. A central tenet of mid-century modern landscape design is the indoor-outdoor lifestyle we enjoy in this part of the world. After all, a garden is to be lived in, not merely admired.

The one thing that there is really no debate about when it comes to Santa Barbara landscape design is that it should be vibrant and healthy. Take a look at my exclusive listings and browse the Santa Barbara real estate MLS to preview currently available properties throughout the region. Need more insights into the different communities here? Explore the site and contact me at your convenience. I look forward to helping you make the right choice in Santa Barbara.

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“It was an emotional experience selling our mother’s home in Montecito that we all loved so much but Cristal made the process easier on our whole family by guiding us through the transaction every step of the way. She knows the market so well and everything she recommended was on point including the asking price, painting, and staging the home, which looked beautiful and helped the buyer envision her new home. We sold it the first day it hit the market with an offer above asking! Cristal did an incredible job communicating with us and the buyer to ensure that the transaction would run smoothly. We highly recommend using Cristal, she was a pleasure to work with! ”

- J & A

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- M.F.

“Cristal Clarke is #1 in her field - and you don't become #1 by luck. Cristal works harder, and longer, and with more charm and patience than any real estate agent I have ever worked with in the past; her calendar has no weekend, her days have no clocks, her only concern is selling your property as soon as possible and for the best price on the market. Am I a fan? You bet!”

- 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