2015 Year in Review

2016 Annual Meeting, September 8, 2016
Gwen Stauffer, Executive Director

Good Afternoon,

Every year, at this meeting, it is my responsibility, and greatest pleasure, to share with you Lotusland’s successes and accomplishments from the previous year. This is also the evening when we celebrate all that we, the Lotusland family and community, have achieved in 2015.

This is also the appropriate occasion, and my duty, to share with you the challenges before us, as we start another year, with new priorities and renewed commitment.

We had many great accomplishments in 2015, and many of them are listed in the tonight’s program, particularly the successes we had with earning operating funds and raising donations to support the garden and our programs. In particular, I would like to point out that we sold out our 15,000 visitor allocation. We also grew membership to its highest level since 2007. And, our Lotusland Celebrates annual fundraiser broke its own record, for the fourth time, raising over $600,000 gross revenue for the garden. Thank you, and congratulations to all who made these things possible.

As staff prepared for this meeting, one of them asked me, “What will be the theme of your State of the Garden address this year?” This was an intriguing question, which I pondered for some time. This annual meeting is truly a momentous occasion to address Lotusland’s core supporters, and my goal every year is to more than report, but to inspire, and as I pulled together the 2015 highlights to share with you tonight, a distinct theme emerged.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus, known for his doctrine that change is central to the universe, quoted, “The only thing that is constant is change.” No one knows this to be true, better than a gardener, who lives, works and makes decisions by the daily biological changes in nature. I think Lotusland’s staff and Board can also relate to change – we saw Lotusland fall on hard times when the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009 altered our reality and the way we do business. Now, we are going through change again, as we just said “Farewell” to Mike Iven, our director of Grounds and Facilities, who is the first of several dedicated Lotusland staff who have been employed here for two to three decades, and are likely to depart before this decade is over.

So, I’ll bet you think my theme for tonight is about change, right? Well it’s not.

Socrates said, “The secret to change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

The theme of my address tonight is building the new and building relevance, for I believe that it is what we DO with change which either makes us extraneous or important, isolated or related, disconnected or relevant.

At Lotusland, we build our programs, evolving them to meet current and future challenges, and create Lotusland’s future. Tonight I will tell you some of the highlights of how we did that in 2015, and how we will do it in 2016.

We opened our 2015 season with the contemporary art exhibit, FLOCK: Birds on the Brink. FLOCK was our 8th exhibit in 8 years, and the last of 5 art exhibits, mostly featuring contemporary art – the art of our time.

FLOCK focused on the interdependency of birds, plants and people. Bird populations are declining for many reasons, but one of the biggest is the loss of habitat, which means the loss of significant ecosystems loaded with critical plants. Add to that the newest threat – neonicotinoids and other new pesticides that kill bees and pollinators also kill birds, and damage the health of ecosystems whose basis is formed by plant life.

Lotusland is home to an incredible diversity of birds because our plant collections are diverse, and our sustainable horticultural practices make the garden a healthy ecosystem. Birds are allies in the control of pests that would otherwise damage or destroy our plant collections.

The message of FLOCK is critical to our time, and it seemed to catch on because it appeared as a story in the press for the entire year, and just as the year finished up, FLOCK was named the Best Art Exhibit of 2015 in Santa Barbara by the Fine Arts critic, Joe Woodard – that’s truly saying something, given we are not an art museum or gallery. FLOCK also appeared on the cover of the magazine for the American Public Garden Association.

Lotusland has become a recognized leader and a model in the national movement to create custom, home-grown exhibits. We are regularly called upon by our peers to share with them our formula for creating exhibits that leverage the specific assets of our garden to keep it relevant to our community. Indeed, our exhibit program has made Lotusland an important and relevant resource for Santa Barbara’s artists and our community citizens who seek meaningful expression of issues in our current time.

We could not have done FLOCK without the help from many generous sponsors, who believe in the power of education through exhibit and the capacity of artistic expression to provoke thought, stimulate discussion, and inspire action. And, we could not have done FLOCK without our guest curator, Nancy Gifford, and all the Lotusland staff, who even created some of the pieces, themselves.

While we plan to continue our exhibit program, we are not presenting an exhibit in 2016. Instead, we are focused on one of the greatest challenges for Lotusland – the renovation of the Japanese Garden. Lotusland’s Board of Trustees made this project Priority Number One in the 2003 Master Plan. After 12 years of intense study of the complex layers of the Japanese garden, we now have a conceptual plan and are finally ready to begin a total renovation of this important garden. However, we must raise the funds to do it, first.

Ours is the only Japanese garden open to the public in Santa Barbara and between Los Angeles and the bay area. It is an important, historic exemplar of the types of Japanese-style gardens built after World War II, when American garden design was deeply influenced by the Japanese culture. Our garden also bears the story of the Nisei, (knee-say), Japanese Americans who were interred with their families during World War II, and who helped create these gardens.

The renovation of the Japanese garden will be the most complicated and largest renovation Lotusland has ever undertaken. We intend to preserve and restore important historical aspects and features of the garden which are compromised or missing. Oddly enough, this historic garden was never completed, as Madame Walska and her gardener, Frank Fujii, had a vision for the garden that was never fully realized.

We intend to make the garden accessible and relevant to our current visitors, while maintaining the historic integrity of the garden. We will rebuild the paths to make nearly all of them accessible to visitors with physical disabilities, so that they may, for the first time ever, enter into the garden. Not only that, but we will be able to connect the entire north side of the garden through this renovation, so that visitors with physical disabilities may leave the visitor center, enter the Japanese garden, then the aloe garden, then the water garden, and finally the cypress allée and the palmetum. The renovation will make this possible for the first time.

We will line the pond and add a bio filtration system to improve the water quality and clarity, and to achieve a sustainable biological system – an issue that has confounded us for years. And we will revitalize aging plant collections, remove and replace hazardous trees, and bring back many of the historic plantings that have long since disappeared.

Jon Glasoe joined our team as Campaign Director, and in a few months we will launch the silent phase of our Campaign to raise $6 -7 million to renovate and endow the Japanese Garden. We expect the campaign will take two years to accomplish, and we hope to break ground in late 2017. Our campaign’s theme is “Restoring Body and Spirit” – not just the body and spirit of the garden, but the body and spirit of our visitors, who find meaning, respite, and even healing in the tranquility of the Japanese garden. The renovation will not only allow every single visitor to enter the garden, but we will create gathering points so tour groups can comfortably gather around their docents to learn about the garden. These gathering points will also allow space for us to provide public programs, for the first time, in the Japanese garden. Imagine programs on aesthetic pruning, bonsai, Nisei history, koi culture, tea ceremony, ikebana, Japanese dance and theater.

Speaking of programs –

Lotusland has become an important community resource, serving students of all grades and ages on subjects about plants, horticulture, sustainability, conservation, architecture, history and art. In particular, our fourth grade outreach program is considered a vital and indispensable program, teaching more than just the core of the CA-required life science curriculum, but giving these children a hands-on, field experience with plants and a thorough understanding of plant adaptation to different habitats and the relationship that plants have in people’s lives.

A few years, ago, we extended that program into schools in North County, adding more schools in 2014 and in 2015. This year, we will expand again. Now, more than half of the schools we serve are Title I schools, and are predominantly of minority populations that are typically left behind in science education. Lotusland is filling that gap. Our evaluation of this program proves that it is increasing the students’ comprehension of STEAM — Science Technology Engineering Art Mathematics … and these are the kids who need this program the most. Bottom line — our program changes the students’ attitudes, their perspectives, and their view of the natural world around them. Their real-time experience in the garden, which for many may be the only time they may ever visit, is a life-changing experience for them.

The only reason Lotusland can offer this program for free to all the schools is because it is supported, in full, by donors.

In 2015 we also expanded our Open Pathways Program – a collaboration with Santa Barbara Independent Living Resource Center and numerous social services organizations in which we offer customized tours and programs for people with special needs, and we offer all these tours and programs for free. Some of the organizations include the Braille Institute, Solutions of Santa Barbara, Friendship Manor, Veterans Home of CA, Alcohol Drub and Mental Health Services, the Fighting Back Mentor Program, Los Prietos Boys Club, Girls Inc., Mental Wellness Center of Santa Barbara, and many, many more. In 2016, we expect this program to grow, as we are continually asked by more and more social services agencies to provide a meaningful experience to improve self-worth and sense of well-being for these segments of our community who are the most underserved.   Again, this program is made possible by donors.

Of the 20,000 visitors we are allowed per year, (15,000 public tours and 5,000 students) we give back to the community, for free, 6,000 to 7,000 — 30-35% — of our available slots every year.

The garden gives so much, to so many, but in 2015, we had to give more than our usual attention to the garden, due to the drought. Because we constantly monitor the health of our plant collections through our sustainable horticulture program, we were cognizant of the drought two years before it was officially declared, and we were better prepared than most.

Yet, we were deeply concerned about the drought and the condition of our well, and we cut back our water use by 20%. Lotusland is the only entity in the entire state of California that has a restriction on the use of its own well water – a requirement placed upon us in our Santa Barbara County Conditional Use Permit. Lotusland’s original well, probably dug over 100 years ago, is very shallow. Fortunately, we were able to obtain both a permit and donor funds to drill a new well. Thank you to all the other who made that possible!

The new well came on line in September – and just in the nick of time. By August our original well was running dry, and we let the lawn die in order to preserve our trees and our rare plant collections. So far, we have managed to preserve everything, expect a group of Monterrey pines in the fern garden that, despite all our efforts, could not tolerate the drought combined with last summer’s long period of intense heat. Even so, the gardens continued to look beautiful, and the Montecito and Santa Barbara communities looked to us in 2015 as a resource for water-wise gardening ideas. The drought is not over, and until the promise of the El Nino is delivered, we continue to be vigilant.

That said, we have decided to proceed with the completion of the palmetum, which was on hold in 2015 because of the drought. This is the last remaining part of the garden built during the Gavit era, where Madame Walska did not quite finish expanding her collection of palms all along the driveway. The palmetum fulfills her vision, with the Gavit-era infrastructure preserved, and it also fulfills our mission to be a relevant botanical garden, expanding our plant collection and conserving rare species as more and more palms are becoming rare. Although unfinished, the palmetum opened to the public for the first time in 2015, and allows wheelchair access to the lotus pool, for the first time. Once the soil warms up this year – around April or May – we will plant more palms, and complete the garden. Thanks to Eric Nagelmann for contributing his pro bono services and the donors who helped make this project possible.

Now there is a new threat to the community, for which Lotusland has been called in by the community to assist. That is the Asian Citrus Psyllid, or ACP, for short, which is an insect that feeds on the tender new leaves of citrus, as they emerge in spring. These insects are vectors for a bacteria-like organism, called haunglongbing, or HLB, for short, and this disease literally clogs the vascular system of the tree, ruining the fruit and eventually killing the tree.

This is a very serious disease that has completely devastated the Florida citrus industry, worth billions of dollars. The psyllid is in California, and was recently found in Montecito. California’s commercial citrus growers, along with the Department of Agriculture, are deeply concerned about their industry and worry that citrus trees on private properties could potentially harbor the psyllid and HLB. As a result, the Department of Agriculture is asking homeowners within 400 meters of a verified psyllid sighting to voluntarily spray their trees, and are encouraging the use of insecticides that are highly toxic to all insect pollinators, even though organic controls are as effective and far less dangerous to pollinators, and all other creatures, including humans. While the diseases – HLB – has not yet been found in Montecito, should it be, the spraying regimen will no longer be voluntary, but will be mandatory.

Because Lotusland has more than 24 citrus trees, we are not permitted to opt out of the control program. We understand the seriousness of this situation, but we will participate through organic and biological controls. There is hope. Universities in Florida and California have researched, collected and tested two species of tiny wasps that parasitize ACP, that are now being produced by the Department of Agriculture.

In the past, Lotusland has been the effective trial site for the Dept. of Agriculture’s release of predators for insect pests that threaten CA’s agricultural industry, and that is because our biological system is so healthy and diverse, with many host plant alternatives for beneficial insects when the pest population is low.  We have offered to the CA Dept. of Agriculture and the SB County Agriculture Commission, the opportunity to use Lotusland in a profoundly helpful way, by providing a safe haven and being a nursery for the parasitic wasps that prey on ACP. They have not yet taken us up on our offer, but we believe Lotusland should be the first place in Montecito where these parasites are released.  We are an obvious and prime partner in this aspect of ACP and HLB control.

In fact, we just expanded our insectaries by at least 20%. There is no better place in Montecito to talk about the effectiveness of sustainable practices than here at Lotusland, yet most of our insectaries that support beneficial insects are behind the scenes. The butterfly garden had been Lotusland’s very first insectary and we are now transforming the butterfly garden back into our insectary garden. It will feature plants that are most effective at attracting and supporting the wide diversity of beneficial insects that our ecosystem – and Lotusland’s collections – need to be healthy and thrive. On top of that, the garden will finally meet Lotusland’s standard of excellence for beauty. The garden will also be the place where visitors can learn more about gardening organically and with nature, by seeing it in action. On top of that, the garden will be handicap accessible for the first time. The insectary garden is nearly complete, and I urge you to come back often in 2016 and watch it grow.

All this that we have done, was guided by our 5-Year Strategic Plan which the Board adopted in 2011, and our 15-Year Master Plan, adopted in 2003. Both of these plans are about to expire. Therefore, in 2016, the Board has committed to reviewing the goals and objectives described in these plans, and to assessing Lotusland’s – and our community’s – current needs, so that we can create a new strategic plan and master plan that continue to grow Lotusland has a relevant resource for this community.

We will also continue ask the community to help us. Our greatest priority – number one priority – is to continue on the track to secure Lotusland’s future, by securing endowment for all of the gardens and some of our programs and positions. This strategy – endowing one garden at a time – gives our community the opportunity to help support the garden for which they have the greatest affinity and knowing, without question, that every penny they donate will be used, in perpetuity, to care for that garden. In the last 3 years we have raised nearly $2.5 million in endowment in this way. We have $20 million to go, and we will keep going, until all gardens are secure and we have raised Lotusland’s endowment to a sustainable level.

How do we manage to do all this?   Here’s how:

With our staff – hard-working, dedicated people. Even though we work in paradise, the daily grind is stressful. Yet, staff understand their success – Lotusland’s success – lies in our relevancy. It is not easy to see the future when one’s head is down, focusing on the now, and feeling the intensity of the present. I applaud them and am deeply grateful to them, because no one loves Lotusland more, and every day, every year, they raise Lotusland to a new level. Please – a round of applause for my staff.

In mid-March, we will welcome Tyler Diehl, our incoming Director of Gardens and Facilities, and I hope you will help welcome him into our Lotusland family.

The staff and I deeply appreciate the Board of Trustees and all they do for us. Because of their passion for this great garden and community resource, they give their time, talent, and treasure to make Lotusland relevant and successful. They guide and challenge the staff, and we thank them for that. Thank you also, for your trust, your generosity, your commitment, and all the ways you challenge me to excel in my position.

I want to thank the President of the Board–Connie–who is unfaltering in her passion and support, and for her positive, can-do attitude, yet practical mindset. Connie, thank you for asking me the tough questions, and for keeping it real and moving forward.

Our volunteers – nearly 260 of you gave over 16,600 hours of service in 2015 – You are amazing and we cannot operate without you. You are our community, our family, and you are one more reason why we are relevant.

And ever so importantly, our members and donors, because you have a passion for the garden and participate in our vision to be relevant by talking to us, guiding us, and supporting to us, so that we are able to keep Lotusland’s phenomenal resources available to our community and for future generations.

Lotusland is one of the most historic places in Santa Barbara. It is also one of the most scientifically important in the world, and it is also one of the most beautiful. It is a special place that helps bring meaning and value to our daily lives by honoring, inspiring, and supporting the creative, intellectual, artistic, physical and spiritual aspect of ourselves.

I thank all of you for being here tonight, and for supporting me, my staff, and Lotusland. And I hope you will continue to help us in fulfilling our vision that Lotusland will be renowned globally, treasured locally, and always relevant.

 Thank you.

Gwen Stauffer, Executive Director