Santa Barbara is known for its pretty flowers and gardens, the roses here are some of the best smelling and they come in such pretty shades of corals and pinks. On a recent trip to The American Riviera, one of the top things on my list was visiting the exotic gardens of Madame Ganna. Lotusland is known as one of the best gardens in the World. Home to several exotic and extraordinary plants here is an inside look at Lotusland, one of the best gardens in the world.
I’m the greatest enemy of average
– Madame Ganna Walska. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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Madame Ganna, the opera singer, painter, fashionista…
There is nothing ordinary about Madame Ganna, a well-known Polish opera singer, painter, fashionista, and socialite who had quite the exotic taste both in husbands, jewelry, and plants. She purchased the Montecito, California estate in 1941 and spent the next 43 years creating Lotusland where she amassed prickly cactuses, primordial-looking cycads, exotic palms, blue agaves, unique stone statues, and more.
After Ganna’s death in 1984, Lotusland became a nonprofit botanic garden and was opened to the public in 1993. Today Ganna Walska Lotusland is an enchanted world where science, conservation, nature, architecture and design all meet in harmony. The educational programs at the garden serve the Santa Barbara community and their innovative horticultural practices are shared with botanic gardens and garden-lovers around the world. Everything from fallen leaves to old tree bark stays in the garden and serves as fertilizer to new growth –nothing leaves the garden. No wonder it is recognized as one of the top ten gardens in the world.
Here is an inside look at Lotusland, one of the best and celebrated gardens in the world
When we arrived at the garden we were met by our docent, a super sweet lady who clearly was a fan of Ganna and her garden.
We started our visit with the Japanese that had gone through some changes and recently reopened. Typical of a traditional Japanese garden, there are several elements that come into your view as you stroll along – stone lanterns, a wooden bridge, reflecting pond, lotus viewing deck.
“The intent here is to leave chaos behind and enter a place of peace and tranquility and just focus on the greenery and the garden” explained our docent. “For the first time, the Japanese Garden is wheelchair friendly with winding gently sloped pathways, and wide Spring Blossom and Japanese Maple Walks” she proudly pointed.
We could see the personal expression of Walska’s love of dramatic, the unexpected, and the whimsical, as we walked along – who else would think of crystal edging stones?!
Lotusland is home to several extraordinary plant collections and around each corner, there is a surprise of unique garden design and plant species.
Abalone shells on the border and giant cascading clamshell fountains
A turquoise pool lined with shells so that she and her little nieces could feel like they were in Polynesia
At the encouragement of Theos Bernard, her sixth and last husband, Madame Ganna purchased the 37-acre in Santa Barbara and originally intended to use it as a retreat for Tibetan monks and named it “Tibetland”. The Tibetan monks never appeared, and after divorcing Bernard, Madame Walska changed the name of her estate to “Lotusland” in honor of the sacred Indian lotus growing in one of the ponds on the property.
Madame Ganna loved her primordial cycads, which dates back to the Jurassic Period some 135-180 million years ago when giant dinosaurs ruled the earth.
Fern garden with a koi pond. Ganna apparently was not a big fan of the koi and agreed to keep them as long as they are low maintenance.
The stone statues reminded me of the gnome statues at the Mirabell Gardens in Austria, you know – the ones that make an appearance in the movie, Sound of Music.
Topiary Garden – Topiary animals from the Osaki Plant Zoo in Los Angeles are planted around the horticultural clock.
A Neptune fountain with Spanish tiles that looks like it belongs in the palaces of Spain.
Madame Walska a diva of her times and a designer at heart loved to mass single species of plants together. She wanted the best, the biggest, and the most unusual plants available and was often willing to pay any price to get them.
Into the Cactus garden
The Cactus Garden was probably her crowning glory! The extensive collection was a gift from Merritt S. Dunlap and is said to have arrived in big semi-trucks and three hundred tons of basalt used to create planting beds for them.
Olive, Lemon and orange trees in the orchard were probably my favorite part of the garden.
Ganna’s cottage where she stayed during her time at the estate. She loved waking up to the view of her expansive lawn.
See a short video of all the magnificent and best gardens around the world
Lotusland is not just a beautiful garden it is also a successful sustainable garden
A successful sustainable gardening program is followed at Lotusland where garden green waste is managed on-site in compost piles and returned to the garden as mature compost. This improves and maintains the health of the soil. Recycling attachments on Lotusland lawnmowers return finely chopped grass clippings to lawns. The clippings soon decompose and release valuable nutrients into the soil. Insectary areas are established throughout the gardens to increase the quantity and diversity of beneficial insects. The garden also has a nectar-producing flower garden that attracts bees and butterflies
Additional Information about Lotusland
Since Lotusland is a public garden operating in a private, residential neighborhood, advance tour reservations are required to visit. In 2018 the garden celebrated its 25th Anniversary of being open to the public. You can see more detail on their website about ticket prices and tour timings. Lotusland only allows 15,000 guests per year due to community restrictions, so make sure you book your reservation well in advance. Plan for at least two hours here and wear comfortable shoes.
Ganna Walska Lotusland
695 Ashley Road
Santa Barbara, CA 93108
I hope you enjoyed this virtual garden walk inside the exotic gardens of Madame Ganna at Lotusland!
Thank you Lotusland and Visit Santa Barabara for hosting our visit to the garden.
You might also like these other top Gardens:
Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in Cape Town
Butchart Gardens in Victoria
Spring at the Dallas Arboretum
Fall Colors in Fort Worth Japanese Garden
Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail
Ooty Botanical Garden in South India
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