lawns around Santa Barbara Mission
But the government and Church also realised the colonies would require a literate population base that Spain could not supply. So some 300,000 indigenous Americans had to: learn Spanish, develop vocations and adopt Christianity.
Since 2003, Santa Barbara Mission has developed a special outdoor museum called La Huerta Historic Gardens. This orchard-garden was built as a collection point for the disappearing plants of California’s mission period, 1769-1834. Only plants that were specifically documented during the mission era are allowed in the Huerta.
La Huerta historic kitchen gardens, Santa Barbara Mission
Next came grapes, barley, wheat, lettuce, figs, peppers, squash, pumpkins, beans and onions. Then apples, pomegranates and oranges. Herbs and medicinal plants such as basil, sage, thyme, cilantro, cumin, mint, lavender, rosemary, dill and valerian all grew in the Huerta.
Utilitarian plants valued for fibre included agave, cotton, flax and hemp. Palm fronds provided thatch and brooms. Gourds were cured and carved into bowls, acacia and Peruvian pepper tree sap was used for glue and castor beans were processed for medicinal oil. Native trees were harvested for their wood.
Today the Huerta is showing visitors that plants have always spread from country to country, bringing with them different cultural, medical and gastronomic benefits. The Spanish arrived in southern California with their plants already on board. As early as Columbus’ second voyage to Hispaniola in 1493, cuttings of 20 plant varieties were brought over on the 17 ships, as well as live stock.
La Huerta historic orchards, Santa Barbara Mission
Columbus also brought with him some cuttings of sugar cane which were planted in Santo Domingo. And Columbus took back New World exotica with him eg chilli peppers, cacao plants and maize. Within just 20 years, crates of Hispaniola sugar were already being shipped home to the Iberian peninsula. Cortés, the conqueror of Mexico, also became an influential sugar producer and these plantations had an enormous impact on the economy of the New World.
In my last Spanish Mission post I was fascinated to note that the goal of the missions was, above all, to become self-sufficient in relatively short order. So crop farming was the most important industry of any mission. Each mission had to create its own kitchen gardens, orchards and vineyards. The Mission grape in particular became very famous in California. The Mission olive even more so.
Old Mission Santa Barbara still occupies over 10 acres of beautifully manicured modern gardens, lawns and rose bushes. It has a number of worthy aims, including being a spiritual centre; educating and serving; promoting the arts and cultural heritage; advancing ecumenism and being a reconciling presence in the community. But arguably their most important work is the Huerta project ie the repository garden for historic plants from the Mission era. As well as organised tours for students etc, there are Open House days where docents/volunteer guides take visitors around La Huerta.