Butterflies, bees and birds can’t resist this garden.
Many were spotted on a recent sunny afternoon in the half-acre of California natives, everything from buckwheats to poppies, at Covenant Living at the Samarkand.
A tour of the garden begins with a dramatic viewing spot, complete with a bench, that takes in the Santa Ynez Mountains,. From there, visitors go down a ramp on its green slope to a bottom teeming with life — flora and fauna.
“We have a lot of monarch butterflies that drift through here,” retirement community resident Phila Rogers told the News-Press as she stood on the bottom level and looked up at the slope. “Up at the top, we planted the millkweed, which they feed on.”
“It’s a beautiful garden. It’s very peaceful,” said Mrs. Rogers, 90, who has a great view of the garden from her apartment. “I come here often.”
The retired nature and science writer, who moved to Santa Barbara in 2013 from her native Berkeley to be near her children, has worked on advising Samarkand on the garden with fellow resident Ann Allen.
Before the garden was planted, the area was a grassy one intended for chipping golf balls but it was seldom used because of poor drainage and its remote location at the back of the retirement community, Mrs. Rogers said.
Mrs. Rogers said she, Mrs. Allen and other residents lobbied the Samarkand administration to create a native plant garden that would fit in with nearby Oak Park. It was a natural given the park’s trees provide the backdrop.
Mrs. Rogers said a local landscape architectural firm created the garden, and Kitson Landscape Management maintains it.
She said the process included the removal of a lot of vegetation, including rogue ivy.
“It was a big process,” Mrs. Rogers said. “I feel very grateful to Samarkand that they were willing to take a chance to do it because it’s pretty unorthodox. Your average retirement community is not going to be so adventurous.”
Natives were planted, including verbanas, coffeeberries, fragrant flowering sages, toyons and fuchsias, Mrs. Rogers said.
After residents said there wasn’t enough color, one non-native, yellow plant, lantana, was added, Mrs. Rogers said, but noted she hopes it will eventually be replaced with a native.
The garden also features oak, redbud, sycamore and fig trees.
The slopes were planted with blue ceanothus and this year orange California poppies.
“These are Clarkia plants,” Mrs. Rogers said as she walked past one bunch of flowers. “They come in different shades of pinks and whites.
“This is a very unusual plant, these pink buckwheats,” she said as one of the countless bees landed on a bloom.
The scientific name is Eriogonum grande var. rubescens; the common name is San Miguel Island buckwheat.
The area has a natural, semi-wild look. “We don’t want it to look super-cultivated,” Mrs. Roger said.
As she led the tour, she pointed out two bird species, wrens and California towhees, who landed in a garden that obviously felt like home to them.
“Late in the day, early in the day, this is a bird paradise. That’s when more birds are feeding,” said Mrs. Rogers, whose book, “The Best for Last: A Naturalist Settles in Santa Barbara” (The Santa Barbara Co.), is scheduled to be published soon.
“It’s so full of life. It wasn’t that way before,” said Mrs. Rogers, who encourages residents and visitors alike to explore the garden.
“We invited people (residents) to come down. A lot of people didn’t know this existed, let alone what’s planted here. They were quite blown away.”
Visitors can explore the native plant garden at Covenant Living at the Samarkand, 2550 Treasure Drive. The garden is by the Eastview complex at the back of the property.