First stop north of LA on our California trip (thanks to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship!) was Ganna Walska’s Lotusland, open to the public by appointment.
Formerly a tree nursery, country estate, lotus flower farm, spiritual retreat and the scene of wild parties and outdoor opera, Lotusland is now a model of sustainable gardening, integrating water conservation, organic pest control and compost tea.
When Madame Ganna Walska mass-planted cacti here in the 1950s, she was seen as hugely exotic and eccentric. Now it’s a style that’s more common, but Lotusland still stands out for its style and the scale of plantings. If she liked one of something, fifty were even better. The cycad collection is phenomenal.
Special specimens are everywhere you look; this weeping bamboo (I think Fargesia) is painstakingly clipped by gardeners in the Japanese garden. Other special collections of plants include cycads, cacti and bromeliads. “Madame Walska collected plants, along with lots of other things – china, antiques, and husbands,” says garden curator Virginia Hayes.
In Lotusland’s swimming pool area, giant clamshells form a trickling fountain. Here, large abalone (paua) shells edge one of the pools. In the 1960s, when Virginia Hayes was growing up, there were several abalone canneries in Santa Barbara. “There used to be huge heaps of these shells all over town. Now the shells around the pool are perishing, and we’re having trouble finding enough large ones to replace them.”
Lotusland is inland from Montecito; nearby Carpinteria State Beach has white sand, rockpools and a great campground (where we stayed – book early).