Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Part of my continuing series on our October trip to California…
Finally, I’m at Lotusland!!! I am a little nervous. They’re checking our credentials to make sure we’re worthy of touring without a docent. I’m trying to look cool. You know like I belong there, I don’t need to be “escorted”, when in reality I’m so geeked-out and eager to be on my way that I can hardly stand the waiting. Okay the word comes down…we pass! We are off, on our own…in paradise…

I am sure the docent tour would have been lovely, and I would have learned many things, but I needed to move at my speed. Even if you’re a member (as we are, thank god I was in-the-know on that one) your time in the garden is limited. We had just a little over 2.5 hours to see it all!

This was the original entrance that led to the Madame Walska’s home (I'm on the inside looking out)...
After entering the gate you travel down this fabulous drive with Agave attenuata flanking the road on both sides.
Look at the size of the trunk!
The Cycad garden was incredible…
Encephalartos Ferox
Encephalartos gratus
Encephalartos horridus Macrozamia communis
There were so many beautiful Bromeliads! Seeing them in this environment certainly helped me to understand the lighting conditions that they thrive in.
Look another Vriesea imperialis!
Vriesea fosteriana
Dunno...but I love it...
King palm
I love the criss-cross pattern of the foliage on this palm
Aeoniums The “famous” Oyster fountain
Aloe marlothii
Close up of Aloe marlothii Aloe plicatilis Fan Aloe
The Lotus pond
And the Lotus pond bog gardens, on either side of the benches Wow…Agave bracteosa… Agave bracteosa, close up. This is the biggest one that I’ve seen “in real life,” Isn’t it graceful?
Agave gypsophila… so curvy! I need one! (I know…I need them all!) Isn’t it sexy? Agave victoria-reginae…seeing this one it dawned on me that I didn’t yet have one of these in my collection (problem solved thanks to online shopping)
Agaves in the distance...
Crown of Thorns
My fondness for Barrel Cactus is growing. These are spectacular! Euphorbia ingens Weeping Form, near the former home of Ganna Walska. Euphorbia ingens close up Aeonium Schwarzkopf and the tiled parking area in front of the home. Something I’m sure I would have learned from the docent but I found on their website…”Santa Barbara receives only about 16 inches of rain a year, so you may be impressed -- or perhaps startled -- by the vast amounts of water required to keep the garden going. Luckily the property has its own well. What's more, as the country's only sustainable ornamental garden, Lotusland no longer relies on chemical fertilizers or herbicides.” Go Lotusland!

Dragon tree or Dracaena draco
Also from their website…” Walska didn't always seek out plants in remote locales. Ms. Wolf explained how Walska created her Dragon Tree forest by driving around the neighborhood. "When she found a good specimen, she had her chauffeur knock on the front door and offer the owner some money. If someone didn't want to sell, she usually had a case of champagne delivered and that changed their minds." I like her style!

Behind the home, look at those Banana!
And the Moorish pond with its long tiled rill
The Neptune fountain
The smell walking along under the lemons was intoxicating!
The Dunlap Cactus Collection - From a sign near the entrance we learned this is the Dunlap Cactus Collection of Merritt Sigsbee Dunlap, friend of fellow cactus enthusiast Ganna Walska. His collection, including 530 specimens representing over 300 different kinds of cacti and 40% of them grown from seed, was gathered over a 70-year period and donated to Lotusland in 1999.

Birds Nest Fern (we've left the Dunlap Cactus Collection)
Tree fern and Alocasia odora
And our time in the garden draws to an end. Oh and I finally bought something!
Having seen the stunning Agave bracteosa at Lotusland I was in love. They were selling a good sized pup for $7, so naturally I had to have it. Of course I completely forgot that my parents bought me one at Cistus just a month ago. Perhaps I’ll plant one in the ground and keep one in a pot and see how they perform. And my big score…they had an Encephalartos horridus! It’s small but I am so happy to have it!
I was so impressed by Santa Barbara; it seemed a gardener’s paradise. I asked the lady in the gift shop if she was a gardener. She was, and completely agreed that she was living in plant-heaven. Turns out she grew up across the street from Lotusland, on the other side of the “pink wall” she said that her brothers used to dare each other to climb over the wall and into the gardens, back when Madame was still living.

Ok I must say I was disappointed when I started going through my Lotusland pictures, I didn’t have nearly the fabulous photos that I thought I would. I think somewhere along the line I forgot what I was seeing with my eyes was not magically being recorded by my camera, plus it was a beautiful sunny day, the kind of day that creates harsh shadows and makes macro garden “big picture” photography a very tricky thing. I don’t feel I fully captured the beauty in the garden. You just need to go see it for yourself!


  1. I am so glad to finally see your Lotusland pics and hear about it, Loree. First impressions: so many long vistas, like a formal garden; it's very otherworldly-looking; I love that Agave gypsophilia too (if only it were hardy here); and I'm surprised that the garden uses, by its own account, a prodigious amount of water. Its agaves and cacti are obviously drought-tolerant, so it must be other kinds of plants that need all that extra water.

    I wonder whether one could reserve a non-docent tour and then come back the next day to tour with a docent for more info. Or would that be cost-prohibitive?

  2. Pam, I felt like I completely failed to capture the vistas…so it makes me happy that you could see that. There was a very large expanse of lawn and an entire “jungle” area that I could not capture well because of the dense plantings (the light was very low); those alone must use a lot of water.

    When I called to make my reservation (required) they suggested that I do exactly what you ask about. There are tours and 10:00 and 1:30 each day, they suggested I do the 10:00 with a docent and then the 1:30 on my own. Those are the only times you are allowed to enter the garden whether you are on a tour or not. Membership ($75) gets you 2 free passes ($70 value) so if you were alone then you’d have both times covered. In my case my husband was with me and we didn’t have the time in our schedule to do both. But if you could swing it then you totally should! I got the feeling not very many people tour on their own…they seemed very surprised by my request.

  3. Lotus land is my very favorite garden in the world !
    It's so fantastically exotic, funky, arty, and so so out of this world.

    I've visited it a couple of times and each time I was on a tour.
    The last tour was a hoot and a toot. There was a lovely old couple who had the funniest voices. She sounded like Jimmy Cagney and he kept on ripping the loudest longest farts. My partner and I laughed through the entire tour and to this day still mimmic the couple especially when we do garden tours together.
    " Look Jim, Look Jim, Look at the pretty plants ... FaFaFa Farrrrrrrrrrtttttttttt."

    So glad the you and your partner had this fantastic opportunity.

  4. Came back and am cackling over Michelle's comment about the old couple on her tour! I was on a mule ride once that offered the same experience: tooting mules all the way down into the Grand Canyon...and back up the next day. (What do they feed those mules?)

    Thanks for the additional info about the tours, Loree. One day I WILL get out there. Then I'll just have to convince my DH to spend all day touring a funky, fabulous garden with me.

  5. Hello,

    I think your

    "Dunno...but I love it..."

    is a Xanthorrhoea....?

    I've been enjoying your California tour photos.

  6. Wow lotus land! I have always wanted to go there, you got some excellent photos!
    I overwinter a sizable collection indoors myself, I feel yah.

  7. Hi Loree~~ I totally know what you mean about the picture thing. Before-hand I think I'm going to take all these photos and document every vignette. But for one reason or another I get caught up in the awesomeness of the surroundings and the camera gets ignored.

    You've got some fabulous photos. Everything is so exotic and captivating.

    I want a Moorish pond. Were you tempted to go wading?

  8. If you didn't capture the beauty in your photos, I can't even imagine how good it is in real life. Drooling. I love living in Portland, but I'm feeling a little envious of Santa Barbara gardeners right now.

  9. PUH-LEEZ!!!
    You've captured Lotusland BEAUTIFULLY! What are you talking about? I think yours is the most comprehensive Lotusland blog posting yet! I love the detail you went into, and I LOVED recognizing some of the plants, like I was seeing pics of old friends!
    I know it's always a little disappointing taking pics in bright daylight, but your images are GREAT!
    Doesn't the story of Ganna Walska totally captivate you? I love her. I want to grow up to be her. Without all the husbands dying mysteriously, of course!
    I am SO happy you visited the garden nearest and dearest to my heart - of COURSE you'd adore it! And you got an Encephelartos horridus! LUCKY!!! It will be so happy in your garden...
    Thanks for a lovely trip through a wonderful garden!

  10. DD, Michelle, I LOVE your story! We had a similar experience at the Rose Garden here in Portland (NOT a favorite garden, but it has a great view of the city) there was an old fellow who was entertaining several other visitors with his "toots"...he really seemed to either think it was the most natural thing in the world or really just not care!

    Thanks Anonymous! I greatly appreciate any names and corrections, please always let me know if you've seen something that I've wrongly identified.

    JJ, you've got to plan a vacation! There are so many fabulous things to see so close to Lotusland.

    Grace, honestly? No...on the wading. Because that would have taken time away from my plant viewing! :)

    Megan, it is tons better in real life. I couldn't capture the 'big-picture' with the sun shadows you couldn't see 1/2 of the picture. Santa Barbara is pretty much paradise! Their dandelions are A. attenuata...and you think I'm kidding? Nope.

  11. Germi, I think we were commenting at the same time! Yes I totally and completely want to be Ganna Walska! I can see myself driving around (cuz I like to drive and wouldn't want a driver) in my fancy lil sportscar and getting out to go offer folks cash for their amazing plants. Then my crew would do the follow up. I WANT THAT LIFE! I would be so good at it...

  12. Hello fellow PDX'r, same as all the others - great post.
    My heart breaks in that i have to take 40hours vacation between now and Jan.31st or i lose the hours. Problem being Lotusland is closed through Feb.15th!
    I honestly can't think of anywhere else (beyond succulent field trips in South Africa i suppose..?) i'd rather be than Lotusland. I thought wife and i would double hit Lotusland, as you noted, and the smattering of other gardens in the area but i just can't agree to even step foot into without promise of getting into Gannas' paradise.
    After the disappointment settled a bit we thought that a car trip up to BC may be nice and that open water, some good food, and the weird purple money would satisfy some wonderlust until that magical Santa Barbra eden reopens for us in later spring. After doing a little research on the botanical options in the area, i am weary of the whole operation altogether.

    The Buchart Gardens are apparently amazing for the rest of the world but i feel uninspired by the views i see on their website. Best i could find to pique my thorn loving heart is the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden just won National Geographics best spot in the top 500 garden parks worldwide. I am down with some bitchin' eastern gardens for an hour or two but as your tagline says - nice plants are boring.

    Beyond the Pug (sorr!), you seem to be my online-analog as can't think of any post/plant/picture on DangerGarden that i haven't loved or identified with. - i've often gone through many plant emotions and new plant find/love/searches only to find a DangerGarden post from years prior, mirroring my exact scenario(Fascicularia pitcairnifolia var bicolor @ Cistus for example).

    So, super long winded comment and comparison boils down to fact that i pretty much full on trust whatever recommendation you may have for this no pressure question:
    If you can't go to Lotusland, where does one go for a weeks vacation with excelent gardening that is drivable or with airfare of <~$250 from pdx?

  13. PC-PDX, well that sucks! A nice winter get-away to sunny Santa Barbara and a stroll through the magical gardens of Lotusland would have been so fabulous. I didn't realize they closed for such a long period in the winter months. I wonder if it's part of their permit with the neighborhood to limit the traffic.

    So...where else to go. Interesting that you were thinking Canada, there certainly are plenty of wonderful things to do there (I would not put the Butchart Gardens on that list), but personally I would want to head south to the sun and warmer temperatures! Have you been to the Huntington Botanical Gardens (, It lacks the theatrical element of Lotusland but certainly has an excellent plant collection. The California Cactus Center ( is nearby and is a great little (if rather expensive) nursery. I also thought of the Berkeley Botanical Garden and the Ruth Bancroft Garden in the Bay Area, but maybe those are further north just enough that there may be some winter protection on a few of the plants, thus detracting from your visit.

    As for the drivable/cheap airfare part of the question we did drive from Portland for our California adventure that included Lotusland as well as all the others (except the Ruth Bancroft, I haven't been there yet!). But we had two weeks for the trip...and some of that was gobbled up with family visits so hard to say how long it would have taken us to just do the driving and garden visits. I know we have talked about visiting the Bay Area again soon and figured we could drive it straight-through to save time and money.

    Good luck...I hope you come up with an itinerary that you and your wife enjoy...and hope you'll come back and comment so I know what you ended up doing and if you enjoyed it!

  14. I grew up in Glendale, California in the 1950's and a friend was the son of Merritt Sigsbee Dunlap....he had a huge hillside cactus collection.

  15. You need to revisit Lotusland in July to experience to Lotus flowers.
    They are fantastic.


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