Land for the Blaksley Botanic Garden was purchased in 1926 by Anna Dorinda Blaksley Bliss in partnership with the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and Carnegie Institution. Established for research and education, it was the first botanic garden devoted solely to the California Floristic Region. The garden was organized into native plant communities based on a design by Dr. Frederic Clements of the Carnegie Institution, Elmer Bissell, and Ervanna Bowen Bissell. Lockwood de Forest, Jr. was also an early presence in the garden’s design.
By 1939, the garden incorporated and became the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. In 1938 Beatrix Farrand joined the Garden Board; she and de Forest together are responsible for the naturalistic design of the garden and the Blaksley Boulder and Oval Meadow entryway, which they designed while de Forest was in Europe during World War II. De Forest’s widow, Elizabeth, aided in garden design through the 1980s.
The 78-acre property is laced with earthen trails and is home to the Santa Barbara Mission Dam and Aqueduct, which was constructed by the Chumash Indians. Other features of the garden include the Caretaker’s Cottage, Indian Steps, Entry Steps, Campbell Bridge, and the Blaksley library designed by architect Lutah Maria Riggs. More recent changes include paved paths, a Japanese teahouse, and an irrigated lawn in place of the historic meadow. In 2009, the Jesusita fire burned several historic structures and 60 of the garden’s 78 acres; many of the plant communities have recovered.