Monday, October 19, 2009

The Local Report - Lotusland

89 miles, about 1.25 hours, from my home in Atwater Village.

Lotusland in Montecito, California is a wonder to behold. I had the privilege of seeing it this past Saturday. Faye, a follower of this blog, and a docent at Lotusland, very kindly invited me up to visit. I took Robert and my mother, Dawn, along with me. Lotusland has nothing to do with food but it is so unique that I decided to write a bit about it here. A 39-acre botanical garden containing subtropical and tropical plants from around the world, Lotusland also includes rare cycads (the oldest plant species in the world), cacti, palms and euphorbias. The place is a botanist and gardener's dream.

A well-known Polish opera singer and socialite, Madame Ganna Walska, purchased the estate that would become the gardens in 1941. She spent the next forty-three years designing unusual displays with exotic plants. A series of gardens takes the visitor through a labyrinth of landscape adventures. There are a total of twenty-six uniquely different gardens spread across the thirty-nine acres. Gardens such as the Japanese, the Aloe, the Fern, the Cactus, the Topiary, the Cycad, and the Succulent to name a few. Her original purpose for purchasing the property was to create a retreat for Tibetan monks. The original name was 'Tibetland' and after the monks never appeared, she renamed the property Lotusland in honor of the Indian lotus that grew in one of the property's ponds. 'Madame,' as she is and was known, spent a lot time and resources seeking out the most unusual species of plants, and often securing the biggest and the best plants available. She was a demanding, intelligent and extremely creative personality. She had a vision of what she wanted and didn't stop until she had it. After marrying and divorcing six husbands designing, overseeing, and working in the gardens became her life work. She worked on Lotusland up to her death in 1984 when she was in her late 90s. She left the property to a foundation in her name, and the gardens are now owned by the citizens of Montecito.

The gardens are truly stunning. My favorite garden was the Theater Garden. A theater with stage and seating all in plants. Curved hedges and a raised grassy area formed the stage. Rows of hedges behind and around the stage formed the backstage areas where props were stored and actors changed costumes. Madame actually staged plays there often. I had heard about Lotusland from my mother who had visited before but I didn't quite grasp the uniqueness of what it was. It's hard to until actually witnessing it in person. The only way to visit Lotusland is to make a reservation to go on a docent-lead tour. As mentioned above, our docent was Faye. Her knowledge of the plants, and the history of the place was astounding. Not only did she know every plant's botanical name, she was also able to tell us where it came from, how it grows, and why Madame chose it for Lotusland. It was a vastly interesting two and half hour experience. One I absolutely recommend.

Me, my mother, Dawn, and Faye, our docent.

Pictures don't really do it justice but here are few we took during our tour.

The following two photos are of my favorite garden: the 'Theater Garden' where Madame put on outdoor plays!

Lotusland is located in Montecito, California, for reservations call 805-969-9990, or e-mail: Website:

My Status: Settling into fall, happily. New cookbooks to try, some to review; new kitchen equipment to try out. More cooking, eating, writing, blogging coming soon.

Upcoming Posts: 'gleaning,' or the act of gathering public produce, or leftover farmer's market produce, and giving it to the poor, needy and hungry. A history of the movement, and those that are involved with it. Reviews: The Berghoff Cafe Cookbook and Cooking Light, a review of the redesign of the Time Inc. magazine.

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  1. Nice pictures! I like that Faye had first-hand stories of the Madame in addition to her deep botanical knowledge. It is a special place.

  2. Hey! My friend Ruben Flores (who owns Laguna Nursery) holds events there all the time, but I haven't been YET!

  3. Robert - thanks! But YOU took most of the pictures. So nice pictures! back to you.

    Jo - let us know if you want to go. Faye has said to come back up. Robert and I would love to go up again if you and Peter want to. They close in November and reopen in April. It's worth seeing and then we can EAT somewhere after!

  4. Thanks for highlighting such a beautiful area of CA. There's always a new place to discover in this state, and most of the time, it's about 2 hours away from Los Angeles.

  5. Gorgeous gardens! I would love to visit sometime!

  6. Looks like a lovely way to spend the day. Thanks for reminding me to explore my area more for treasures like this.

  7. Beautiful!!! I would love to go and visit!

  8. Thanks, Afaf! You and Ray should go up sometime. It's a great day trip from L.A.

  9. how beautiful! It looks like some places that I have been to in Southern Africa.

    When I was living there I found it interesting that people would sell their houses without the cycads (they were too valuable to be included in the price). If you wanted to buy them you had to do it separately, they were actually licensed.