Most cultural institutions I visit are in the Los Angeles and Orange County area simply because of convenience. The closer they are to where I live the more likely I’ll visit them but there are some special places that merit the extra effort. Like the Forestiere Underground Gardens in Fresno. I so strongly wanted to visit that I planned a whole weekend trip around it and it ended up being totally worth the effort. And earlier this year when visiting Dallas I took a 1.5 hour detour to Waco just to visit the Dr. Pepper Museum (more on that later). Again, totally worth it. Then there’s Lotusland. Recently, I headed to Santa Barbara just to see it and it certainly merited the 2 hour drive up the coast.
Ganna Walska Lotusland is a public garden located in the Montecito neighborhood of Santa Barbara. Nestled among the area’s most exclusive estates the 37 acre garden was founded by its namesake Madame Ganna Walska in 1941 when she purchased the property. For the next 43 years she lived onsite and developed the acreage into a botanical paradise. Upon her death in 1984 it became a non-profit organization and 9 years later opened to the public.
Due to its location in a residential neighborhood Lotusland must limit the amount of visitors each year and reservations are required. Scheduling a trip takes a bit of effort and combined with the distance from my home I had long delayed visiting but this year I was lucky enough to be invited to the annual gala.
On a recent Saturday I attended Petal to the Metal, a garden party featuring a display of Italian vehicles placed throughout the grounds. Over 30 beautiful automobiles representing Italian design from the 1940’s – 1980’s were on view in addition to dining, entertainment and informative exhibits on both the cars and the garden.
The event was a tremendous success raising over $500,000 for the non-profit. The funds allow the garden to continue its maintenance as well as its community outreach which includes the Junior Botanist program that allows Santa Barbara County 4th grade students and their families free admission. I had a wonderful time viewing the vehicles and enjoying the festivities but I must admit my favorite part was the garden itself.
Lotusland is considered one of the world’s most beautiful gardens and I have to agree with that assessment. It’s certainly one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited. When Madame Walska purchased the property she chose just about the most perfect spot for a botanic garden. Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains it’s a prime location for flora to thrive. As I wandered through the gardens I was amazed at just how luscious and vibrant they are.
Throughout the 37 acres are a number of designated areas including the Japanese garden, the aloe garden, the bromeliad garden and the cactus garden. Though each is utterly unique they all share an intimacy that makes you think you are alone in the midst of paradise.
Although every garden is beautiful there is one area that is so wonderful that it doesn’t seem real.
During much of the year the water garden is lovely though not over the top exquisite but from June to September everything changes because the lotus flowers are in bloom.
Remember when I wrote that Madame Walska picked the perfect area for a garden? The lotus flowers are proof positive. Never before have I seen them thrive as they do at Lotusland. They are gigantic, they are colorful and they are utterly, utterly beautiful.
I could have stood looking at them for hours and did, in fact, spent much of my visit at the water garden. As beautiful as they look in pictures they must be seen to be believed and, alone, are worth the price of admission. But whether you visit when they’re in bloom or during other seasons Lotusland is an absolute must. No matter how far from it you live it merits the effort of getting to it. It took me over 2 hours to reach it and it was worth every second of travel time. In fact, I can’t wait to make the trip again.