Piece of debris becomes children’s tunnel at Santa Ynez Valley Botanic Garden
Should anyone doubt the familiar adage that one person’s trash can be another’s treasure, all they have to do is go to the Santa Ynez Valley Botanic Garden in Buellton and observe children playing happily in a tunnel that looks as if it is carved into a small hillside.
It was once a piece of trash found by Gaviota Coast Conservancy volunteers during a beach clean-up day near Driftwoods Cove.
According to a recent article in the GCV newsletter, the group “toiled for the good part of a day,” dragging irrigation tubing and other rubbish from the picturesque beach, which is about two miles west of The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara, a hotel in Goleta.
Jim and Susan Deacon filled their truck full of trash, and Warren Powers filled his old Chevy van with an 8-by-3½ foot piece of corrugated plastic tube.
“I drove to the dump to see if it could be recycled. No dice. The transfer station would not repurpose it,” said Mr. Powers by phone from his home in Buellton.
“I knew the landfill was not a good home for plastic,” he told the News-Press.
Maybe his wife, Eva Powers, might have a solution.
Not only is she a landscape designer and owner of Creative Garden Designs, she is the president of the Santa Ynez Valley Botanic Garden.
“I knew the beach blight could be used for something at the garden, but I wasn’t sure exactly what. A culvert? A play tunnel for the visiting children? Something for the potting shed?” Mrs. Powers told the News-Press.
The tube sat behind a tool shed at the botanic garden for six months.
“Then I decided it would make a great children’s tunnel and asked Puck Erickson, a landscape architect who lives in Los Olivos if she would design it,” said Mrs. Powers.
With a grant of $2,500 from Montecito Bank & Trust, a mason was hired to create a retaining wall with local river rocks around the plastic tube, and it was landscaped with native plants.
“Since it was completed in May, the tunnel has been very popular with families and children, especially during the pandemic,” said Mrs. Powers. “The Buellton Department of Parks and Recreation offered an outdoor summer program led by Kyle Abello. Children were encouraged to crawl through the tunnel and then talk about underground critters.”
As one of the founders and current president of the botanic garden, Mrs. Powers pointed out that there are other “great projects going on such as the creation of a medicinal plant garden and construction of a Chumash willow and tule hut under the guidance of tribal member Julio Carrillo.”
She recalled that the public botanic garden on 2½ acres was started in 2006 by volunteers who had the vision of creating a botanic garden in an area that had been used for dumping soils.
“It was an overflow basin for storm drain waters and a CalTrans dump site,” said Mrs. Powers. ”With the support of the city of Buellton, the barren site was graded, and the initial paths were placed. Seventy-three native trees were donated and planted by volunteers.”
The garden now houses a propagation area, seating and an amphitheater. There are more than a dozen annual events ranging from Arbor Day celebrations to wreath making.
“While the initial focus was on development of an educational resource centered on the area’s native plant community, the garden welcomes early morning walkers, school children, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, and community groups who support those on the margins,” said Mrs. Powers. “This led to the garden’s new mission statement to provide a unique, accessible and interactive environment, highlighting plants native to the Santa Ynez River watershed.
“The garden will encourage community collaboration, foster new approaches to environmental education and cultivate an appreciation of the natural world.”