Nestled within the thirty acres of one of the most beautiful zoos sits a small parcel of land dedicated to education, conservation and promotion of gardening at the Santa Barbara Zoo. The idea of an onsite garden had been bounced back and forth among staff for a number of years. After the completion of a new education facility, the dilapidated education-trailer which served as a makeshift office was demolished and there was now 165 square meters of empty space. With this space surrounded by our California Trails, animal exhibits native to California, and several public pathways there was no better spot to start development of an educational space to teach our guests, staff, and zoo campers about EVERYTHING gardening.
As you walk the pathways into the garden it begins with two spaces dedicated to the world of pollinators featuring a variety of wildflowers and flowering shrubs leading to the heart of the garden an above ground planter showcasing a variety of citrus trees, pomegranates, tomatoes, herbs, tomatoes, and squashes all which grow food to help feed our 600-plus animals. To the right, our “living wall”, a simple hydroponic vertical garden growing a multitude of leafy greens, herbs and topped with pollinator-friendly flowering plants showcases how to become creative with space in our developing urban environment. Along the back of the garden sit our compost bins, rain collection barrels and worm bins which lead to the last plot featuring our native plants endemic to our unique Channel Islands.
This project is truly a community effort, being a non-profit organization our garden was generously supported by our local donors who agreed with our mission to create a garden space that would function to help feed our animals and educate the public. Our rain barrels, worm, and compost bins are all part of our local city and county’s programs to sell these at discounts to the residents. The mulch covering the vegetable garden is also a service our local waste management company provides to residents free of charge. Even some of the garden spaces are created out of recycled water troughs no longer able to hold water for animals. All efforts were made to reuse and repurpose as many items from around the Zoo as possible to create this new garden.
Speckled throughout the space are several species of California native milkweed which provide additional opportunities to participate in citizen science projects with monarch butterflies. Throughout the garden, nestled in trees, along fences or out in the open is a variety of bird feeders attracting a variety of bird species. Giving an opportunity for everyone to enjoy some of the local wildlife living harmoniously within the zoo.
Being a zoo with many mouths to feed many people don’t realize that not just the fruits, vegetables, and herbs are providing food but the trees themselves are a food source for our large herbivores. Bamboos, palms, figs are all trimmed and harvested to provide a natural food source for gorillas, giraffes, and elephants. Even the flowers from hibiscus, bauhinia, and grewia are a treat for the smaller primates. This also provides us the chance to educate the public about browse plants, why they play an important role in animal nutrition and even how they can donate these types of plants back to the zoo and avoid them going to green waste.
From providing pollinators a variety of foods sources, to enjoying seeing our local wildlife visit the garden for snacks to seeing Zoo Campers getting their hands dirty in our garden enjoying planting their own vegetable garden Raven’s Garden provides a multitude of learning opportunities as well as feeding opportunities for the Zoo’s animals and our local wildlife. Many people may enjoy seeing the lions, gorillas, penguins or other animals at the Zoo but I cannot miss visiting Raven’s Garden at the Santa Barbara Zoo!