Why the crisis at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden affects all Californians

Posted on | July 11, 2009 | 6 Comments

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Photo: Marilee Kuhlmann

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Photo: Marilee Kuhlmann

FOR THOSE who missed it, last weekend the LA Times followed up on the troubles at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. A very capable round up it was too. Yet, roughly three months since crisis gripped one of California’s most important botanic gardens, there remains a great unsaid. That is: As a matter of urgency, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden must reinstate Carol Bornstein.

The April decision to dismiss the former director of horticulture, a 28-year veteran of the garden, is described as a matter of cost efficiency. But if the garden can afford a highly paid PR to gloss over the crisis that has driven half of its volunteers from service, then there is no conceivable rationale for sacking a woman who is the living embodiment of the garden’s mission to foster stewardship of the natural world through inspired learning, rigorous scholarship, and premier displays.

51F7M52QD4L._SL500_AA240_Bornstein is, quite simply, one of the most important horticulturists working in California on improving the understanding and use of native flora. Her expertise is invaluable as we face the twin threats of global warming and an uncertain water supply. Enlisting native drought tolerant stocks to replace thirstier exotic imports is now a crucial prong in the conservation plans of almost every urban and semi-urban water authority in the state. Bornstein’s book, California Native Plants for the Garden, is the most important work on the subject.

Few outside of Santa Barbara are likely to care about whether or not the choice to build an expensive terrace was a correct one. But anyone familiar with California’s looming water crisis knows that the sacking of Bornstein was a colossal error with ramifications for all Californians. It must be corrected.

For a previous item on the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, click here.

This post was updated at 12.23 pm July 13 to include the Kulhmann photo of the garden and to specify that most water authorities now heavily promoting native garden conservation programs are concentrated in urban and semi-urban areas.


6 Responses to “Why the crisis at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden affects all Californians”

  1. Marilee Kuhlmann
    July 11th, 2009 @ 4:17 pm

    Thank you very much for this information.
    You’re so right that we should be standing up for those that are doing the work on our behalf and for those yet to find out what a huge contributions Carol had made. I too would love to see her reinstated if that is her goal. If the botanic garden needs to reduce staff how about the one who determined that Carol was not necessary. She is by far the voice of California flora, California gardens and her work is received with much gratitude at this end of the garden. Who among us doesn’t have a list of plants that Carol created. I began using Natives after hearing her lecture. The book she created with Bart O’Brien and David Fross is just the best. Every California gardener should have one on hand.
    But most of all, her influence in creating a botanical garden that celebrates the magnificent flora of this area is just simply genius. What will happen without her input, will be getting a botanic garden full of plants from other places in the world. Will efforts to care for our native flora be put aside while the garden gets larger areas of turf.

    Marilee Kuhlmann

  2. Ann Summers
    July 12th, 2009 @ 8:38 am

    Could you please put a link to this article in your next blog so those of us who missed the LA Times story on Carol Bornstein’s firing and the troubles at the garden can read it? It would help to hear the full account.

    I love her book California Native Plants for the Garden. I also love the botanic garden. I hope their conflicts can be resolved for the good of everyone who grows and admires native plants.

  3. admin
    July 12th, 2009 @ 9:07 am

    Hi Ann, Sorry the link wasn’t clear. If you click on the tan shaded first mention of the LA Times article, you’ll get it. The other links are given at the bottom of the blog. I normally say “click here” so my posting of the LAT link was unclear. I apologize.

  4. P. Pagan
    July 12th, 2009 @ 5:07 pm

    Thank you for this posting and for your previous links to Owen Dell’s comprehensive “Voices” commentary in the Santa Barbara Independent and letters/responses to same. I found the LA Times article weak in that it just skimmed the surface of the SBBG’s troubles, which might be attributed to too few allotted column inches. As a long time member of the Garden, it pains me to witness its more recently implemented Disney-fication and corporatization while using annual revenues and draining endowment coffers to pay for inappropriate installations, questionable land acquisitions, disproportionate upper management salaries and PR and legal fees in pursuit of the chaotic Vital Mission Plan. I’m also very unhappy about Carol Bornstein’s termination and if she were reinstated, I’d be loudly cheering. However, until significant executive management and board changes occur, who would want to return to the status quo. While the Jesusita fire wreaked terrible damage to much of the Garden, Mother Nature is awesome and many plants are already showing regrowth. I wish I felt as confident that the damage inflicted by the slash and burn style of current management could be corrected as quickly.

  5. Mayita Dinos
    July 12th, 2009 @ 6:47 pm

    Carol Bornstein sacked!! I have gone from initial disbelief to a present state of complete outrage! It doesn’t seem possible that the very board whose job it is to serve and protect this venerable institution could act so foolishly. Are they the only ones who are blind to the immense contributions that Carol has made, not only to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, but to a movement, that has guided us toward a long overdue appreciation of California native plants.
    I hope the board of trustees responds to the cries of reason and reinstates Carol Bornstein to her rightful place. Soon!

  6. Susanne Jett
    July 13th, 2009 @ 8:44 am

    Thanks for the heads up on this incomprehensible situation. Boards of organizations such as SBBG are not only shortsighted but actually ignorant of the true treasures they have in staff such as Carol. Carol has been one of the most significant influences on the entire S. CA sustainable landscape movement for at least the past twenty years. Her landscape designs have provided insight and inspiration to all of us in the field who have also been applying sustainable landscape principles to our work over that twenty year period. Her direction of SBBG moved the garden directly into the future as an educational leader of sustainable landscape principles and methods. If the SBBG Board of Directors are going to be so absolutely foolish, their loss will be another’s gain. SBBG, the membership and the general public will be the big losers due to the failure of the Board of Directors to grasp the bigger picture and SBBG’s place in that picture.

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