Lotus Land-a modern day Wonderland!
Ganna Walska's Lotus Land is a beautiful 37 acre botanical garden located in Montecito (near Santa Barbara), California. There are approximately 20 distinct gardens featuring 3,000 different plants from around the world. While this non-profit private garden is open to the public, reservations are required and only available mid February through mid November. There are two docent led tours provided each day, Wednesday-Saturday only.
On July 5th I had the pleasure of touring this vast garden for over two hours. Arriving ten minutes early at the visitors entrance, I joined the other guests lined up in their cars anxiously waiting for the gates to open. After confirming our reservation at the gate we slowly caravanned to the parking lot adjacent to the welcome area. Here we were checked in, assigned to a docent and politely suggested to visit the restroom (no other public restrooms available during the tour). While there were relatively 30-40 visitors, we were separated into several smaller groups of 8-10, this created a more intimate experience and provided more room for discussion with the docent.
As we began our tour the docent provided historical information on the property, pointed out specific flora and fauna, and shared detailed anecdotes. While I had briefly visited the property a few months earlier as well as visited the website on several occasions, I was not prepared for overwhelming influx of sights, sounds, and smells. Additionally, the temperature increased and decreased several times during our outing, reflective of the plants and trees around us.
The docent mentioned early on the reasoning behind the winding path, to provide a sense of surprise around every corner. Even without this explanation this simple planing in layout of the gardens was evident, provoking awe and wonder. Although the name Lotus Land evokes a sense that the entire garden would be full of lotus ponds, this couldn't be further from the truth. We were initially led past a vast row of various Japanese style pagodas, recently displaced from the Japanese Garden currently under renovation. We meandered thru the Aloe Garden, past a calming reflection pool lined with abalone shell, then circled the Water Garden where the Lotus were beautifully beginning to bloom. Of course I could have spent the entire day here, taking photos and admiring the source of my inspiration, however there was much more to see.
A few quick twists and turns landed us in front of the main house on the property, interestingly not the actual residence of Madam Walska as she was said to prefer the more quaint and adjacent artist cottage. By this time the next several gardens were a respite of shade on this extremely warm summer day. A large grove of Dracaena, the Fern garden with an ancient California oak, and a temptation of the pool. Next was the insectary, established to attract butterflies and bees, the orchard, with a lemon covered pergola and a walk thru an alley of olive trees.
Now that we were sufficiently cooled off, it was back into the baking heat of the cactus garden. This garden coves three-quarters of an acre, featuring 300 different species of cacti. Sand covered paths wind around raised beds, leading to an elevated viewing terrace near the center of the garden. A short distance away is the Topiary Garden which is next to a long and luscious green lawn that extends from the back of the main house. Here a lovely collection of Bromeliad are displayed as well as featured further along in their own dedicated garden. The Theatre Garden was explained as a favorite of the elementary students who visit throughout the school year. After passing through the Shade Palm and Succulent gardens, our tour ended back where we began. The quaint and impeccably curated gift shop, graciously featuring Charming Little Lotus Jewelry, was our last stop before leaving this wonderland.
I hope you enjoyed this overview of Lotusland, and that it has inspired you to take a short drive up the coast to visit. In addition to this lovely garden there are several delicious dining options in downtown Montecito, perfect combination for a day trip!