Casa del Herrero
Casa del Herrero
It is often the case that in order to see some spectacular gardens, you must also tour the historic residence they happen to surround. I usually take the tour begrudgingly, eagerly waiting to be let out of some stuffy old house and into the landscaped grounds. Surprisingly, with Casa del Herrero this was not the case at all and I came away just as enamoured with the inside of the home and especially the way it connected to and was influenced by the landscape outside. It is just this synthesis of indoor and outdoor living that earned the house the designation of National Historic Landmark, and because it is seen as a quintessential example of California’s contribution to modern American home design.
In my selfish quest to experience yet another exceptional garden, I had inadvertently stumbled upon an almost perfectly preserved example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture from the early 1920s. It was the mediterranean-like climate of Montecito which inspired designer George Washington Smith to take cues from Spanish architecture styles, which inspired him to open up the house to the outdoors and create a more cohesive whole. The Spanish Garden Patio that opens off the living room is the perfect example. It is a walled outdoor room with a fountain and arches through which further sections of the gardens can be seen.
The Blue and White Garden was a highlight of the tour for me, setting off the house and arched stucco wall of the patio beautifully. It offers pleasing views of the citrus-laden orchard through a ornate rose arbor in one direction and the brick and tiled Orange Terrace with a dramatic mountainous backdrop in the other. The East Exedra creates a dramatic focal point at the terminus of the east-west axis of the property, a curved, stone feature with benches around a colorful, elaborately-tiled wall fountain. On either side of the fountain, two curved staircases lead to a hidden rose garden with tidy Japanese boxwood hedges.
The South Lawn extends the north-south axis of the home’s design and once boasted unobstructed ocean views. The notable water features include a star-shaped fountain in the middle of the main lawn and the Peacock Pool with its narrow runnel chanel inset into a stairway between lawn terraces, both with stunning tilework. Curving, tiered hedges of eugenia and jasmine lead the way further along the axis which continues past the Pepper Tree Fountain to the Cactus Garden Overlook, known for its three looming Dragon Trees and view into the naturalistic recesses of the property.
Final Review: It is always fun when an innocuous garden visit can be an surprise lesson in architecture, landscape design, and local history. I was also taken aback by how much this modest yet ostentatious house won me over and was just as important as the gardens in forming my favorable opinion overall. As much as the docent leading the tour added so much to the experience (and let us pick some of the fruit!) I longed to have a little more time and freedom to wander around the garden on my own and linger in some of the many welcoming outdoor areas created in this inviting property. FOUR BLOOM RATING