Tuesday, May 08, 2012


Moon Pool.  The abalone shells edging the pool are arranged to resemble lotus flowers.

 Bless the ladies, those who marry well.  And often.  Case in point, Madame Walska, a well married Polish Opera singer and socialite.  Her opera career didn't go so well, but her luck marrying wealthy men did.

Mexican barrel cactus

As a result, in 1941 she had the cash to buy a big chunk of property in Santa Barbara (Montecito) and unlimited funds to start creating an extraordinary series of gardens, filled with a dizzying array of amazing plants.  As the L.A. Times put it, "For Walska, plants were more than plants; they were colors to paint with, a family to nurture, characters to direct."

Newly created cactus garden

And direct she did, for 43 years until her death in 1984, creating dramatic tableauxs of plants, a huge Lotus pool (hence the name), whole swaths of jungle-like groves filled with massed bromeliads and a huge variety of succulents.  She even made a pact with a fellow plant collector, who had created a huge, spectacular cactus garden, that when he died, he would will his cache of prickly flora to her.  Alas, she died before he did, but he worked with the estate and was finally convinced to move his treasures before he died.  So the Lotusland staff created a new, beautifully laid out section and all the cacti, some of them toweringly huge, were transported from San Diego to their new home. Almost all the plants survived the perilous trip and our collector, by this time, a very, very old man, was able to attend the opening ceremonies.

 It must have been a culminating moment for him, to see this new, beautiful and cunningly designed "cactus world" filled with his "babies," an eye-popping variety of cactus, all thriving happily, even in Santa Barbara's cool coastal weather. Several weeks after the installation ceremonies, the gentleman collector passed away.  I'm sure he had a smile on his face.  His lifetime's work had been achieved.

Ethiopian papyrus

Since the great lotus pool doesn't start blooming until June, the beautiful lotus blooms weren't yet open.
But there was plenty of other amazing plants to see, including a whole section given over to the ancient endangered cycads, plants that were here before the dinosaurs.

Female cycad

Male cycad

Cycads, aloes, ferns, succulents, lotuses, waterlilies, bromeliads, blue gardens, japanese gardens, butterfly gardens, topiary gardens, olive groves, the whole of Lotusland is one series of astonishments after another. A perfect example of the interesting conjunction of a creative passion and money well spent, all now available for the public to enjoy.  Quite a legacy. 

Main house with cactus garden

Since parking is very limited, reservations are a must.  Regular tours and family tours are offered at 10:AM and 1:30 PM, Wed through Saturday, Feb 15 - Nov 15.  There is an admission charge.  For further information or to schedule a tour, go to or call (805) 969-3767.

Trellised lemon trees

Rose gardens


valerielevulett said...

Wonderful photographs. Thank you for sharing. I especially liked the trellised lemmon trees.

Sewertoons AKA Lynette Tornatzky said...

Great posts of late Ann, thanks so much for letting us see what's up out in the big world!