What you can do with time and money


Lotus goddess/princess (?) holding lotus flower at Lotusland


A quick trip last weekend to Santa Barbara.  Besides visiting family, we were going to visit Lotusland, the mind boggling garden begun 79 years by an ex-patriate Polish opera singer in one of the most beautiful, and expensive, cities of California, Montecito.

Madame Ganna Walska purchased the 37 acre property in 1940 with her sixth husband, expecting to create a refuge for Tibetan monks.  The marriage, and the plan, faltered and the newly single mistress of the estate proceeded to create one of the most spectacular gardens in the world.


Walska designed everything.  The house, the gardens, the artwork, the interior design, she was intimately involved with every detail.

There’s a lot more to this gardening than I would ever imagine.  Turns out that there are collectors who want one of every kind of plant in a specific area, and will spend tens of thousands of dollars for a rare cutting. Lotusland contains many of those plants, astonishingly rare specimens, some of which no longer exist in the wild.

I don’t know much/anything about plants.  Here are some that I saw.

The garden as a whole is divided into smaller specific gardens–aloes, the Japanese garden, the cactus garden, etc.  You can’t have a Japanese garden without a waterfall; this place has two of them.

I said that Madame Walska was an opera singer: she had an outdoor auditorium to put on recitations:

The area is decorated by a horde of trolls brought over from her estate in France.  I found them fascinating.


There is a garden of topiary, whimsical creatures formed out of sculpted plants:


Some more plants I liked the look of:


Our trip was organized by the Ruth Bancroft Garden, and we brought along their curator, Brian Kemble to explain the intricacies of the plant world.


This pool is decorated with abalone shells and giant clam shells:

These are sculptures decorating yet another pond:

These are the trunks of palm trees that resemble elephant legs walking through the jungle:


Lotusland is not easy to get into.  You cannot just drive up and see it.  Because it is set among the multi-million dollar mansions of one of the richest communities in the nation, it faces particularly onerous use permit restrictions.  They are limited to only 15,000 visitors a year.  There is very little parking–we had to arrive in a bus and were not permitted to bring even one extra vehicle. Tickets must be purchased in advance.  There is nothing casual about a visit.

One more photo–Madama Walska was a collector of many things.  This is a magnetic meteorite.


Gardening is not a big interest of mine, and yet I found Lotusland captivating.  I can’t recommend it enough.  If you are ever going near Santa Barbara, make a reservation and go.  You will be amazed and awed.  I was.



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