According to local bird watchers, Santa Barbara is noted for its many varieties. They should be happy birders because there’s a nest of new housing available after the CAMA (Community Arts Music Association) Women’s Board’s 7th annual Private Gardens Tour and Celebrity Birdhouse Auction.

Buses shuttled us up a hill high above East Mountain Drive to a new Italianate estate with an old patina, home of Susanne and Gary Tobey. We meandered paths and enjoyed the coastline views beyond the century-old cypress tree and took time to – literally – “smell the roses.” Rosarian Dan Bifano was showing off the garden he designed with the assistance of Mary Dorra. Because of the garden books she writes, Mary once got a small group of us from the Museum of Art into the American Ambassador’s home and garden in New Zealand where he and his wife gave us a tour.

Picture Provence in the south of France for the second home and garden, belonging to Val and Bob Montgomery. Shade from stately old oaks felt great this hot spring day. The home is set around an intimate courtyard with an antique fountain and a front door—both finds from a trip to France. I expected to see a cat sunning itself, as so many do in France. There’s also a tennis court with a whimsical pergola. Imagine sipping champagne and viewing a game.

Then it was on to the grand finale at Chris and Mark Levine’s Spanish estate, never before open to the public. The property dates back to 1926 when it was a lemon ranch. Many of the original lemon trees, which supplied fruit during World War II, still remain. The silent auction birdhouses were displayed on the lawn in front of an old arbor adorned with Banksia roses. Over 60 artists, including Meredith Brooks Abbott, Mayor Marty Blum, Jim Dow, Judi Weisbart, Barnaby Conrad, Laurie MacMillan and Sandy Russell let their imaginations run rampant creating bird abodes. Sue De Lapa and Barney Brantingham’s was not just a house but also a bird hotel with many “rooms.” Barney admitted, “Sue did it all; I just watched.” Dani Hahn from Rose Story Farm created my favorite live auction birdhouse. A couple of days later I was in Nordstrom’s lingerie department when I gave a woman a compliment about her stunning white hair. She asked if I had been at CAMA. When I said yes, she told me her friend Kathryn Downing had won the Rose Story Farm birdhouse and had given it to her, Sharon Sutton, and her husband, Bob Meltzer, for their 21st anniversary. What are the odds of that meeting? There was plenty of good wine and food to keep the audience happy while veteran auctioneer John Palminteri kept them bidding.

Co-Chairs Judy Writer and Patti Ottoboni told me, “This benefit allows us to purchase tickets for more than 50 middle- and high-school students so they can attend CAMA concerts.” The Women’s Board has been around for 57 years supporting CAMA.


The Santa Barbara Historical Museum was filled with 150 guests for its 24th Collectors Series Lecture Parterres of Paradise: The Evolution of French Gardens. Princess Marie-Sol de La Tour d’Auvergne had come all the way from France to explain her passion to us – gardens, gardens and more gardens from early Renaissance through the present.

Among her many credits, Marie-Sol has served as President of the French Heritage Society since 1992. For her dedication safeguarding the architectural patrimony of France, she was received as Chevalier in the Legion d’Honneur in 2006. As she said, “My favorite chateau and garden is my own Ainay-leVieil about three hours south of Paris in the Cher region of central France.” The chateau has been there since the 1200s, with a “new” wing having been added in the 1500s when her ancestors took possession. She told me, “It has been besieged many times.” She and all her siblings were born and raised there before the sieges in a very traditional manner. Today she lives in Paris part time and the family share the chateau the rest of the time. It is open to the public but they only get about 25,000 tourists a year, which is not enough for maintenance of the property. Some of the more centrally located chateaux get 250,000 visitors a year. You can also be married there just like a real princess.

“Of cabbages and kings!” One of Marie-Sol’s slides showed a garden full of cabbages. When she asked, “How passionate can you be about cabbages? Very, if they are as beautiful as these.” Peter Rabbit would have had a blast! Many of the gardens Marie-Sol showed had belonged to kings and noblemen.

After the lecture, we adjourned to the courtyard – the first group to be there since the three-year project of cleaning contaminated soil and renovation began. Workmen were still busy at the far end, but the luncheon setting was lovely in lavender and white. Carolyn Amory-Peck was honorary chair because she is a good friend of the lecturer and had invited her to do the presentation. Hard working Co-chairs of the event were Tom and Eileen Mielko and their committee.

David Bisol is the new Executive Director while still acting Curator. The Board of Trustees President’s Reception to welcome the Princess was held in the Trustees Penthouse the evening before. We got to see some of the artistic decorating improvements that David has made to the area with a low budget utilizing places like Costco and Linen and Things for the bathroom and office.

Board President Ed Sands told the group that the Santa Barbara Historical Society is celebrating its 75th year with a Diamond Jubilee fiesta party in the newly refurbished courtyard July 21. The first black-tie gala will be November 3, and will be headed up by Stefani Taliaferro with Tiffany as a sponsor. See you there and remember, entry to the Museum is free.