Santa Barbara family wins America’s best front yard
Stephanie Poole entered pictures of her front yard in a few contests during her extra time at home. She didn’t think she would actually win one — or two.
Then, two weeks ago, she won the grand prize in the WaterWise Garden Recognition Contest, a countywide competition for drought-resistant landscaping.
And Tuesday, her family’s picture launched into national view as Better Homes and Gardens announced their garden as America’s Best Front Yard.
Around 1,800 yards competed for the title. Mrs. Poole asked her neighbors to vote for her family’s entry, and she was shocked when she made the top 10. When Better Homes and Gardens came to do a four-hour photo shoot at the family’s home in Santa Barbara’s Westside, she figured they won — though it seemed too good to be true.
When Mrs. Poole and her husband Brian Hickey began renovating the front yard, they didn’t mean to make it worthy of national acclaim.
After the mudflows in 2018 hit Montecito, it was easy to buy local sandstone. Mrs. Poole wanted to replace the chain-link fence that surrounded the property, so she decided to build a 26-inch-high rock wall — the perfect height for neighbors to sit and chat.
The project grew to include a bocce-ball court driveway (a nightly favorite for the family of three) and lots of drought-resistant plants. Mrs. Poole works as an architect and did the design herself but contacted landscape architecture friends to help with irrigation and drains.
She says the drought-resistant plants weren’t a hindrance to her design at all. It was easy to get permits because she was replacing a water-heavy lawn. She likes how the new grasses flutter in the wind and the deep color of her Crape Myrtle.
Two large rain barrels, disguised as planters, sit alongside the driveway and provide enough water October through April to cover the yard. They hold up to 150 gallons of water, and when they overflow, it drains into the yard or through water-permeable pavers lining the ends of the driveway. The design won the WaterWise contest, and it keeps water bills low.
Most features serve more than aesthetics. The family picks fruit off of the lemon, lime, orange and plum trees. Their son loves the vegetable garden planted in fabric pockets. He’ll run outside to grab a few kale leaves as Mrs. Poole makes lunch.
Often, neighbors walking dogs stop by to say hello. Mrs. Poole says some may have even extended their route to stop by.
When the family finished the yard, they held a potluck party for the neighborhood. They hoped to do it again this year, but they enjoy waving to neighbors from the adirondack chairs a safe distance away.
The community feel makes the yard a favorite spot for the Poole-Hickey family. The awards just sweeten the experience.