Visiting Lotusland — 3

Thanksgiving is just a few days away, and this year I'm thankful that I got to spend time in Lotusland without being tied to a guided tour. Generally, that's the only way to see the gardens unless you have a membership. At the 2019 Bromeliad Summit, we were fortunate to have free roam before and after the day's activities and during breaks.

Here are the other installments of this 3-part series: part 1part 2.

Part 3 starts in the Water Garden, originally the swimming pool of the estate’s second owners. It was built in 1925; the pool house was designed by George Washington Smith, a leading proponent of the Spanish Colonial Revival style that gives much of Santa Barbara its distinctive look. Ganna Walska transformed the swimming pool into a pond and stocked it with Asian lotus, the inspiration for the name “Lotusland.”

Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans) next to the pool house

A small grove of Beaucarnea stricta, closely related to the ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) but with shorter and stiffer leaves that stick up instead of drooping down, connects the Water Garden to the Aloe Garden.

Beaucarnea stricta

Look at the comically small fan aloe (Kumara plicatilis) in front of the massive Beaucarnea stricta trunk. Considering how branched it is, this fan aloe is quite old in spite of its diminutive size (not the typical growth habit).

Aloe thraskii leaning so much that they'd fall over if they hadn't been propped up

Aloe thraskii

Aloe thraskii

Aloe thraskii

The Aloe Garden was started in the 1950s and today features almost 200 different aloe species, including many tree aloes which have reached impressive heights. 

The most distinguishing feature of the Aloe Garden is the pond. Originally built as a swimming pool by the property’s second owners, the Gavit family (1915 – 1939), it was transformed by Madame Walska in 1958. She had the perimeter of the pool lined with abalone shells and the interior painted a very pale blue so it would glow in the moonlight. The pièce de resistance is a cascading fountain made of giant clam shells.

Genius or kitsch? It doesn't matter. Ganna Walska built Lotusland for herself, and she didn’t set out to please anybody else.

Aloidendron barberae

Aloe wonderland

More Aloidendron barberae towering about lower-growing aloes

Aloe camperi

Aloe chabaudii

Classic aloe silhouettes

Aloe sabaea (right)

The biggest and gnarliest fan aloe (Kumara plicatilis) I've ever seen

Aloes and black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra)

In closing, here are a few miscellaneous shots. I'd be thrilled if any of these vignettes were in my own garden!

Australian tree fern (Cyathea cooperi)

Australian tree fern (Cyathea cooperi)

Echeveria bed surrounded by sea green slag glass

According to the Lotusland website, Madame Walska purchased the slag glass from the Arrowhead Spring Water bottling factory where it was chipped out of the kilns.

The Japanese Garden was in the final phase of a major renovation while I was there. All the stone lanterns were lined up along the road to the main house. This is not a sight we're likely to see again.

In her 1943 autobiography Room at the Top, Ganna Walska summed up her life philosophy in these memorable words: “I am an enemy of the average. My mind is either too destructive or too natural, for I prefer nothing at all rather than mediocrity.”

Ganna Walska in her garden tending to a Kniphofia, c1955 © Eyerman Photo

Lotusland is proof that Ganna Walska never wavered from her convictions, never compromised, and never gave up. And the world is all the richer for it.


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  1. The area with the Beaucarnea and Aloe thraskii looks almost primeval. Thanks for sharing your tour, Gerhard.

  2. I've always wanted to visit when the Lotus is in bloom , but I think it peaks in July and the idea of going to Socal in the middle of summer does not excite me ! On the other hand , it's on the coast and can't be worse than summer here can it ? And in my many visits I have no memory at all of that Echeveria circle with the slag glass border !

  3. Thank you for the wonderful posts of Lotusland with your amazing photos. Loved the picture and quote of Ganna Walska. She must have been great fun.

  4. What a treat that Ms Walska had the foresight to preserve her garden. So many of the plants have reached an impressive maturity. The photos of the Aloe thraska and the Beaucarnea stricta look like a herd of Ents waking up. So cool!

  5. The picture of Ms Walska is a treat. She had the garden theme going on even in her dress. And that fabulous hat.


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