Lotus Peak at Lotusland
By Robert Bernstein
I have been to Lotusland quite a few times since they first opened to the public in 1993. But last week we finally went during the peak of the lotuses in bloom! That time will continue at least through the end of July.
Here are all of my photos from our visit.
Lotusland was the creation of a most unique woman who called herself Ganna Walska. She was an opera singer from Poland. She was very creative and energetic. And a bit eccentric. She was married six times. Apparently, she was quite a catch!
She was born Hanna Puacz on June 26, 1887 and died here in Montecito on March 2, 1984. "Ganna" was a Russian approximation to "Hanna". And "Walska" represented her favorite music, the waltz.
The tour began at the Visitor Center
While they are waiting, visitors are encouraged to tour the Australian Garden which doubles as the parking area!
Our expert guide Christine Gress gathered us under a trellis nearby
We passed the Hall of Fame where benefactors are listed
We visited an original gate where the previous owner Ralph Kinton Stevens had planted some exotic trees.
Here was one of the Chilean wine palms that he planted. It produces a delicious sap that can be fermented into wine. I included a tourist in the photo to show the massive size of these trees.
This area is also normally host to the Japanese Garden. But a major renovation is underway. It will not re-open at least until late next year.
Here is the pump and filtration system for the renovated garden which will be buried when the project is finished
The Japanese Garden contains a collection of Ishi-Doro Japanese lanterns. Madame Ganna Walska had a number of unique collections. During the renovation, the lanterns have been arranged along the walkway.
Also arranged along the walkway are chunks of green glass. These give an effect of an emerald necklace. They are taken from the slag from producing the old Arrowhead Water bottles.
Next in this early part of the tour was the Aloe Garden
This droopy aloe was imported from Yemen
The Aloe Garden includes the Abalone Shell Pool. The pool is bounded by abalone shells. And decorated with the enormous shells of giant clams. Quite spectacular. It is no longer legal to import giant clam shells, so this could not be reproduced today.
Of course, the highlight for me was the Lotus Garden.
It is actually called the Water Garden and features some other notable plants. Quite a few water lilies.
These Lily of the Nile agapantha
This cluster of papyrus plants
But the lotus flowers in bloom got us out for this occasion
It was quite a contrast with the next area we visited. It looks like a house, but it was never actually used as a house. It is currently the location of the Lotusland office. The grounds are home to a variety of cacti.
This weepy cactus looks like it is wilting and dying, but it is OK
Quite a few cacti were in bloom and/or fruiting
Our guide showed us a photo of an employee who accidentally touched a particularly nasty cactus. I accidentally touched a different one and it felt like my hand was on fire for about 30 minutes. At least I did not get this effect! Visitors are asked please not to touch any plants!
Many of us know Draceanas as office or house plants. These in the Dracaena Garden are a bit big for that!
The Fern Garden is home not only to familiar little ferns on the ground. Some more exotic plants abound, including tree ferns and more.
The Swimming Pool looks like an ordinary swimming pool. But the "beach" next to it is notable for another collection of giant clams!
And beautiful urns like this
The Insectary is planted with flowers meant to draw butterflies, bees and other pollinators. It was the first official "organic" garden in the US. No pesticides or petroleum based fertilizers are used here. Madame Ganna Walska was ahead of her time.
We did not see any butterflies, but there were a few bees
Nearby was the Orchard with plenty of fruit
And some flowers
Merritt Sigsbee Dunlap collected cacti in his Fallbrook home in San Diego County, starting in 1929. He was concerned that his collection have a good home after he died. He made arrangements with Madame Ganna Walska to take his collection. He got his wish! Here are photos of the Cactus Garden at Lotusland
Here is an old photo of our guide with her mother posing with a cactus... next to that cactus today!
The Topiary Garden is more about art than it is about horticulture. Another aspect of Madame Ganna Walska's talents and interests.
Over the years the wire frames supporting the topiary animals rusted and collapsed. A renovation was undertaken to re-create the originals, based on photographs. The renovators could not resist adding some new topiary animals of their own!
The Topiary Garden includes this beautiful clock, featuring the 12 Zodiac signs to represent the 12 hours of the clock face.
Which leads directly to the Parterre. A long narrow garden corridor with water features.
And water gods and nymphs
This corridor took us back to the back of the building housing the Office. Usually there is no public entrance to this building. But for a limited time there is a most unique art collection! Photographs that look like surrealistic paintings!
This one included a lotus, appropriately enough
This was quite grotesque!
We also saw more of the outside of the building and art there
The Blue Garden is named for the silvery/bluish plants that Madame Ganna Walska selected for this area
Including some impressive hanging collections of Spanish moss
This area is adjacent to the Great Lawn
Then we were on to the Bromeliad Garden
Which included this beautiful little grotto, typical of European gardens
The Theater Garden was an actual small amphitheater that could seat about 100 people.
Most notable are the "grotesques". Stone figures Madame Ganna Walska brought from Galluis, France after World War II.
The Succulent Garden included this greenhouse to cultivate plants
And included more stone figures
Madame Ganna Walska would become quite fanatical about her collections. She became intrigued with cycads. They look a bit like ferns, but are more closely related to conifers. She sold all of her remaining jewelry to purchase as many cycads as she could. Many of these are priceless and irreplaceable now.
She also placed this giant magnetic lodestone in the garden which is demonstrated with the paper clips stuck to it!
The Tropical Garden is home to more water lilies as well as some beautiful Koi fish.
Back at the Visitor Center we had a chance to purchase books, plants, souvenirs and miscellaneous artifacts.
Michael DeRousse is the owner of the Palace Grill Cajun and Creole restaurant on Cota Street. It is one of my very favorite restaurants in Santa Barbara. I met him years ago when we were seated on a flight together to Phoenix, each on our way to destinations beyond. He is very generous and one of his gifts to our community is serving as a Lotusland docent.
He explained that docents go through training that is both intensive and extensive. More material to learn than you could give in a day long tour. Let alone that you could give in just two hours, which is all the time they are allowed for the tours. (The County has strict limits on Lotusland due to the strictness of its Montecito neighbors).
He encouraged us to come back and do tours with different guides as well as a self-guided tour. There is much more to learn about the plants and about the history of Madame Ganna Walska and the rest of Lotusland. We recently joined as members which will give us a chance to do just that. You are encouraged to do the same. Lotusland barely has enough money to pay for its expensive upkeep. Any and all help is appreciated!