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JAUNTS : Wildflowers Burst Into Bloom for Festival : It's one of Santa Barbara's most colorful events and a wonderful chance to pick up some home-gardening hints.


You don't have to go far to see a wildflower these days. It's the season of the brilliant orange California poppy and a flurry of other colorful wildflowers now in bloom.

If you want a real dose of Eschscholzia californica , the high-brow name for the poppies, and some of the other wild bloomers, come to the Wildflower Festival at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden on Saturday.

During the festival, which runs from 10 a.m to 4 p.m., you can see the wildflowers in bloom in the 65-acre garden nestled in Mission Canyon above the city. Docents will be giving tours, identifying the flowers along the route.

If you're in a planting mood, the garden will have plants and flowers on sale--including many hard-to-find drought-tolerant native California varieties, all grown by a volunteer group called the Garden Growers.

But if your thumb is less than green, gardening experts will be on hand to give advice. (For instance, they might advise that the best time to plant wildflowers is in the fall, just before the so-called rainy season, but some varieties will thrive with a spring planting.) And, if you have an ailing plant or a mystery plant you would like identified, just bring it in and let them have a look.

There will be a number of booths set up, including one on how to cook with wildflowers. The Men's Garden Club will have a display, along with seed and landscape companies, and nurseries. You might pick up some tips on flower arranging.

Kids will have a few things to do during the festival. They can play detective and go on a nature treasure hunt in the garden. They can chat with a couple of roving talking trees--people dressed as trees who sing and chat with kids about the garden. At an activity table, they can use a microscope to examine how the monarch butterfly interacts with the milkweed plant.

Slide shows on wildflowers will run at scheduled times. And a bluegrass band will be playing outside. Plant books will be on sale and a silent auction also will be held to benefit the garden.

Last year, the festival's second year, some 1,200 to 1,300 people attended and this year more are expected, according to Kristin Frascella, the botanic garden's public relations manager.

Because the garden has scant parking, visitors to the festival will be asked to take a shuttle bus from the Museum of Natural History, just above the Santa Barbara Mission.

The festival is a chance for you to see the rest of the botanic garden, which features more than 1,000 kinds of plants and trees native to California. It is crisscrossed with five miles of trails that ramble through meadows and canyons and along ridge tops where you can scan the Channel Islands. Founded in 1926, the grounds also include a historic dam built in 1806 and 1807.

Three years ago the botanic garden added a home demonstration garden to give visitors a practical guide for their own gardening projects. The model was designed with the average home in mind. The idea was to conserve water and use plants native to California that require low maintenance.

The model was also planned with flowers that bloom at different times of the year so that the garden has color at all times.

In fact, it's a common misconception that wildflowers bloom only in the spring, according to Carol Bornstein, director of horticulture at the botanic garden.

"The biggest displays are in spring and early summer," she said. But something is blooming all the time.


* WHAT: Wildflower Festival

* WHEN: Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

* WHERE: Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, 1212 Mission Canyon Road, Santa Barbara. (Take the Garden Street exit off Highway 101 and head for the Santa Barbara Mission. Pass the mission and continue up Mission Canyon toward the mountains. For this event, park at the Museum of Natural History and take a shuttle bus to the botanic garden.)

* COST: $3 for adults, $2 for seniors and teen-agers, $1 for children.

* FYI: Call 682-4726.

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