George Steedman, Casa del Herrero’s original owner, moved to the area to be near his brother who was treated for diabetes by Dr. William Sansum (founder of Sansum Clinic). Now, a different disease is impacting the estate: COVID-19.
Executive Director Jessica Tade and Nichole LaViola, membership and volunteer manager, adapted to COVID-19’s demands. They worked for a month on a new plan, a tour of the outdoor gardens, led by visitors and their smartphones instead of a guide.
So after being closed for several months, Casa del Herrero, or “House of the Blacksmith,” reopened — or more specifically, its gardens reopened Wednesday morning.
Interestingly enough, there’s a lot of history in these gardens. They’re designated as a national historic site.
“Surrounding the architecture are beautiful gardens. They’re very neat and different,” Ms. Tade said. “The more you get to know the Casa, the more these really neat and interesting components come alive.”
QR codes scattered throughout the various gardens give history lessons usually shared by a docent, what the Casa calls its volunteer guides. So, guests can still hear a piece of Santa Barbara history while taking strict precautions.
“What we’re trying to do is provide a safe, contactless experience, but also have tranquility,” Ms. Tade said.
Guests can wander the gardens at their own pace, though they must follow the arrows pointing them to the next space.
The exterior is broken into room-like pieces, each with a different theme. There’s a sense of continuity as fountains and Spanish tile connect the spaces.
The gardens compliment the home’s Spanish colonial revival architecture. Sally Green, a docent, said Mr. Steedman ordered 7,000 tiles from Spain. They’re spread out among the landscape on the rock paths, benches and fountains.
“I love how the sound of water moves you through the different garden spaces,” Ms. Tade said.
There’s a blue-and-white garden where Mr. Steedman and his wife Carrie would watch the flowers glisten in the moonlight. Ms. Tade likes visiting that space when it starts to get dark outside to try and connect with the Steedmans.
In the daytime, she strolls by the orchards for the fresh scent they provide.
“It’s an amazing experience because you can see the different flowers that are blooming as well as smell the citrus,” she said.
It’s almost impossible to count the many types of fruit trees and vines. So, every month, a local food bank comes and picks pounds of fruit off the trees.
A word Ms. Tade repeats is “community.” She tries to engage locals, as the Steedman’s daughter, Medora Bass, aimed to do by donating the family home.
Essential workers from Cottage Hospital receive free tours, Casa del Herrero’s way of saying thank you. They could tour the gardens in August along with the Casa’s members.
“Having people come back is so important, even in a limited capacity. It’s nice to take that one step forward and be able to make that happen,” Ms. Tade said.
Now, everyone ages 10 and up is welcome to visit. It costs $25 which helps support the house and garden’s maintenance.
The Steedmans hired more than a dozen gardeners to maintain the landscape. Now, there’s two full-time gardeners and some volunteers.
The Santa Barbara Gardening Club refreshed the herb garden and the Arizona garden, one of the most magnificent spaces on the property.
Above the Arizona cacti, Dragon Trees tower above, creating an ever-expanding canopy. The trees are Ms. Tade’s favorite plant because they’re original to the landscape. They’re massive and provide a sense of mystery to the garden.
Beyond just horticulture, the tour teaches history. Original touches, like the ironwork made by Mr. Steedman, give a hint of what the 1920s felt like for large Montecito estates. The details bring visitors through the property.
“I like preserving a community landmark, and I feel very grateful to be a part of it,” Ms. Tade said.
Casa del Herrero is located at 1387 East Valley Road in Montecito. For more information, go to www.casadelherrero.com.