Visiting Lotusland — 2

This is part 2 of my 3-part post about visiting Ganna Walska Lotusland earlier this year. Part 1 left off in dragon tree grove across the front courtyard. Part 2 continues our journey in the oak grove next to the guest house where Ganna Walska chose to live (she used the main house mostly for storage). 

Here, sheltered by the canopy of decades-old oaks, bromeliads like aechmeas and alcantareas thrive on the ground while epiphytes like Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) are suspended from tree branches. Just beyond, the hundreds upon hundreds of columnar cactus that flank the approach to the main house glisten in the sun as if they were made of pure silver.

The sight was so arresting that I found it hard to tear myself away. I wasn't the only one. Even though there are no people in these photos, a group of at least a dozen 2019 Bromeliad Summit participants were standing near me, transfixed by this spectacle.

On a front porch, we have a small clump of silver torch cactus (Cleistocactus strausii) in a ceramic pot, maybe a dozen slender stems no more than 4 ft. in height. Needless to say, they pale in comparison to this, but I'm very familiar with the way the hair-like spines glow when lit from behind.

Alcantarea imperialis, with Madame Walska's bedroom window in the background

Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides)

Hechtia argentea

Fellow plant nerds Max and Justin

Beyond the oaks you can catch a glimpse of the massive agaves (primarily Agave franzosinii) that flank the perimeter of the Blue Garden.

Agave americana and burro's tail (Sedum morganianum) with a funny mesh “hat”, presumably to protect it from scavengers from above?

Perfect specimen of Agave americana

Agave franzosinii

This path leads into the Blue Garden

Agave franzosinii

Wider shots of the Agave franzosinii... the entrance to the Blue Garden

All the plants in the Blue Garden have glaucous leaves, including these Agave attenuata 'Boutin Blue'

Puya laxa

The remaining photos in part 2 were taken in the Cactus Garden. This is one of the newest gardens in Lotusland, but its beginnings go back many decades. Cactus aficionado Merritt Dunlap started his collection in 1929 and in 1966 promised it to Madame Walska, whom he had known since the 1940s. It was finally donated to Lotusland in 1999, 15 years after Madame’s death, but due to a lack of funds and the sheer size of the collection – 530 specimens from over 300 species – it took another four years before the new Cactus Garden was finally unveiled. Merritt Dunlap attended the 2003 opening and in the same year celebrated his 97th birthday in the Cactus Garden. He is said to have been very proud of how it turned out.

I love the design of the ¾-acre Cactus Garden. Mounded planting beds of varying height give the area a sense of dimensionality, emphasized by circuitous walking paths that wind through the garden. Black slate chips are used as the top dressing, resulting in a clean and contemporary look. 300 tons of boulders were brought in to create the beds, and basalt columns provide additional visual interest.

This “platform” offers a great view of the Cactus Garden

Hechtia lanata

Hechtia lanata inflorescence
I like how the taller cactus seems to be looking out for the barrel cactus growing under it

A regular cactus forest!

I'm not quite sure what puya this is...

...but if I were pressed to make a guess, I'd say Puya dyckioides

Still to come in part 3: the Aloe Garden. And some Japanese stone lanterns for good measure.


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  1. Reading part 1 made me think I was losing my love for plants, as I didn't really get too excited about anything I was seeing. Part 2 started the same way, but then the "cactus forest" photos came up, and there it was: that little jump inside, the thrill of seeing not just an astounding cactus collection, but also in the perfect way you captured it. Perfection!

  2. Those first few photos of the glowing silver torch cactus had me hooked right through to the very end. An incredible story to accompany an gorgeous garden.

  3. Silver torch cactus bellow and Spanish moss above is a stunning photo, almost like an under water scene.

  4. You made very good use of your "photo time", excellent shots.

  5. Wow. Magnificent oak plus cactus forest. Wow.


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