Santa Barbara, located on the California coast is known for it’s benign climate. Into this gardening paradise stepped Ralph Kinton Stevens, a horticulturalist from England. In 1882 Steven’s started buying property in the small hamlet of Montecito, next to Santa Barbara. Eventually he owned a couple hundred acres of land. Given the large number of oak trees on the property, Stevens’s wife, christened the estate Tanglewood. After his death the nursery property would eventually become the fabled Lotusland.
Steven’s planted his land in a variety of fruit trees including citrus. Citrus, especially lemons we’re being planted in the farmland around Montecito between 1888 to 1893. Stevens is credited with being the first California nursery with a catalog devoted exclusively to tropical and sub-tropical plants.
He also grew olives. In his 1891 and 1893 catalogs he offers the following varieties of olives: Cucco, Fantoiano (Frantoio, Frantojo), Manzanillo, Mission, Morchiaio, Morinello (Morailo), Nevadillo Blanco, Nostralis, Palazuolo, Picholine, Redding Picholine and Rubra (Caillon). The oldest trees in Tuscon, Arizona are said to be from Stevens nursery. At the University of Tucson in the late 1800’s Robert Forbes was the Head of the Agricultural experiment station there. He was interested in what types of fruit and nuts could be grown and planted many olives to see how they would do. On April 1, 1895, they planted a row of olive trees from Santa Barbara on the west side of the campus. Those in front of the girls dormitories we’re planted by Forbes and it is highly likely the trees came from Stevens nursery.
When not working at the nursery Steven’s liked to relax by singing and playing the banjo. He also dabbled with taxidermy, and created clay figurines. He enjoyed exhibiting at agricultural fairs and frequently hosted the Santa Barbara Horticultural Society at his ranch.
Ralph Stevens died at the age of 50.