Japanese Garden Renovation News & Updates

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Japanese Lantern Exhibit – The Ishi Dōrō of Lotusland

Begins the Preliminary Phase of the Japanese Garden Renovation

Lotusland Newsletter, Spring 2017

For the past few months, Lotusland’s staff has taken advantage of the winter season to execute preparatory tasks that must be completed well before the heavy work of the Japanese Garden Renovation project can begin. The timing was extremely critical for most of these tasks. The koi fish prefer to be moved when the weather is cool, before they spawn. The niwaki sculpted trees— many of them started by Frank Fujii, Ganna Walska’s gardener and codesigner— had to be dug up and boxed during their winter dormancy. The trees will be returned to their original positions in the garden near the end of the project, and the koi will be returned to the pond as well.

Another critical task was moving the Japanese stone lanterns out of the garden to prevent any damage to them during the renovation. Ganna Walska amassed more than 30 Japanese stone lanterns, or ishi-dōrō , to embellish her Japanese stroll garden. The lanterns were placed in appropriate locations by Walska and Fujii, each according to their purpose. Set with stones or wash basins and an arrangement of plants, they fit seamlessly as an important garden ornament. This winter, the lanterns have been carefully cataloged, along with their accompanying rocks, basins and plants, so that they can be returned to their original positions to complete the renovation at the end of 2018.

We took advantage of the need to move Walska’s exquisite and historic lantern collection to showcase them, all together for the first time, in the stunning Ishi-Dōrō of Lotusland exhibit along the main drive, opposite the Japanese Garden. Walska’s ishi-dōrō collection includes stone lanterns of many styles and purposes, representing many different periods in Japanese history and culture. While the provenance of these lanterns cannot be verified, records indicate that some of them were acquired from the Japanese gardens of local Montecito estates, some of which were dismantled during World War II as a show of patriotism. It is likely that some came directly from Japan, possibly for the Japanese Emperor’s exhibit at the 1894 World Exposition in St. Louis, which were subsequently sold to merchants and wealthy patrons.

The Ishi-Dōrō of Lotusland exhibit is temporary, but will remain in place while the Japanese Garden undergoes the urgent renovation to repair water features, rebuild the path system to make the garden fully accessible, restore original plantings and fulfill Waska’s and Fujii’s vision for the garden.

Japanese Garden Renovation – Design Nears Completion

Lotusland Newsletter, Winter 2017

Preparing for the the renovation of the Japanese garden requires considerable efforts from two teams. The first team of landscape architects, staff and skilled tradesmen is focused on the design and construction plans that will meet the primary objectives of the project. To date, the design documents are completed, and we anticipate that construction projects will be ready for contract bidding by April. A second team of staff and volunteers makes up the Japanese Garden Campaign Committee, which is working to raise funds to support the project. To date, the committee has raised nearly $2.5 million in gifts and pledges toward the budget of $4.6 million to renovate the garden.

Plans for the Japanese garden renovation honor the original vision of Madame Walska and Frank Fujii and blend new and existing features with outstanding design aesthetics while accommodating programming and practical needs for today’s visitors. These improvements will enhance the garden’s beauty and will realize three practical and critical physical improvements: 1) to make the garden accessible to wheelchairs so that all of our visitors may enter the garden; 2) to renovate the murky clay bottom pond to create a healthy, clean and clear pond ecosystem; and 3) to restore and enhance the original plant collections and landscape design. Although construction will not begin in earnest until late spring 2017, the Japanese garden will be closed during the entire 2017 tour season.

In the meantime, we have begun to move Madame’s exquisite and historic Japanese lantern collection and her fascinating collection of koi fish. To protect the koi during the pond’s reconstruction, we have renovated a small water feature in the cycad garden to serve as a safe sanctuary and home for the displaced koi until they are returned to the reconstructed Japanese garden pond in late 2018. The lanterns will be cataloged in their original setting and then carefully relocated to form a stunning temporary exhibit until they are returned to their original position in the Japanese garden as the renovation concludes in mid-2018. The temporary lantern exhibit will be shown along the main drive, opposite the Japanese garden, and will beautifully showcase the lanterns as well as provide information on their significance, history and provenance.

These teams feel a renewed sense of urgency, as we head into winter. Lotusland’s goal is to raise at least $3 million before we break ground, but we must dig up and box the old and finely pruned Japanese maples and pines before they break their dormancy in spring. We turn to you to ask for your support of this incredible project and invite you to view the plans and hear more about opportunities for involvement. For more information please contact Rebecca Anderson, Director of Development, at 805.965.3767 extension 104 or at randerson@lotusland.org.

In Memoriam: Frank Fujii 1917-2016

In 1967, Frank Fujii began working for Ganna Walska and launched a career at Lotusland that would span 40 years. Read article

Japanese Garden Renovation Campaign Update:
We are half-way to our goal!

Lotusland Newsletter Fall, 2016.

lotusland-japanese-garden-pond6123Lotusland’s Japanese Garden renovation plan includes two primary objectives:make the garden accessible for all visitors; and create a healthy, clean and clear pond ecosystem.

The Japanese garden is situated in a deep earthen bowl dug by the estate’s first owner, Ralph Kinton Stevens, to mine the local clay. This created a big hole, which he then flooded for an irrigation pond. Later, the Gavit family lowered the pond’s water and built narrow winding paths for strolling around it. Madame Walska retained this path system when she created her Japanese garden. As with many historic public gardens that originated as private estates, Lotusland’s Japanese garden is not wheelchair accessible, and we plan to modify the paths to meet accessibility standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The pond’s original clay lining still remains; as a result, the pond water is always cloudy with sediment, and algae frequently bloom on the pond surface. Unfortunately, crayfish and exotic turtles introduced into the pond have damaged the lotuses and completely decimated the water lilies. We will line the pond with an impermeable material with built-in beds for the aquatic plants and safe havens for the Koi fish, and we will add a bio-filtration system to maintain clear water.

Achieving these two objectives is very complicated and expensive; estimated construction costs are $4 million. Generous donors have contributed just over $2 million so far, getting us halfway to our goal. We will continue to ask donors for support to raise the remainder of the funds so that we can break ground in early 2017.

For more information about the Japanese Garden Renovation project and how you can help us achieve our goals, please contact Rebecca Anderson at 805.969.3767, ext. 104 or randerson@lotusland.org.

Lotusland Receives $1.8 Million Japanese Garden Grant from the Hind Foundation

Santa Barbara, California, July 1, 2016 – We are pleased to announce a $1.8 million grant from the Hind Foundation to Lotusland’s Japanese Garden Renovation campaign, Restoring Body & Spirit. This generous grant will be used for garden path modifications and accompanying retrofits, creating greater access for all visitors, especially those with disabilities. This will allow access to the Japanese Garden and adjacent gardens, and to meet standards set by the Americans with Disabilities act (ADA).

Lotusland’s President of the Board of Trustees, Connie Pearcy, said, “The Hind Foundation’s generosity helps us move forward in accomplishing the important task of opening the Japanese Garden to those who might not otherwise be able to experience the peace, tranquility and renewing nature of this wonderful environment. Their commitment to Lotusland ensures that the Japanese Garden will be open and inviting to all individuals.”

Since the late 1800s several layers of history have been represented on the site where Madame Walska fulfilled her her unique vision for a Japanese-styled garden. Built in the 1960s within a deep earthen bowl, and around an existing pond and path system, Walska created the largest garden at Lotusland. Her plans were implemented by stone mason Oswald “Ozzie” Da Ros, and lead gardener and aesthetic pruner, Frank Fujii, and through their ongoing collaboration the garden continued to evolve over the years.

Lotusland’s Japanese Garden is an important historical example of the type of Japanese-style garden built on American private estates after World War II, and is the only Japanese-style garden open to the public between Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

Lotusland’s The Japanese Garden Renovation project will address these pressing needs:

• Repair the garden’s aging infrastructure including rebuilding and lining the pond, restoring original plant collections, unify the historic layers, and address the current and future use as a public space, that all elements are seamlessly connected.
• Sustain Madame Walska’s vision for the garden and fulfill the uncompleted plans by her first and only Japanese garden designer, Frank Fujii, to provide visitors with sweeping vistas, close contact with lotuses, and intimate spaces to rest, relax and contemplate.
• Create greater access and safer paths for all visitors, especially those with disabilities, through the Japanese Garden and adjacent gardens, and to meet standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
• Create gathering points along the paths for visitors to pause and experience the garden more deeply, and to provide space for future programming that is currently not possible.
• Create an endowment, dedicated solely to the perpetual care of the garden, ensuring that Lotusland’s revived Japanese Garden continues to provide visitors – now and well into the future – with a tranquil, meditative and inspiring experience.

 Garden Renovation Project by Gwen Stauffer and Virginia Hayes

Lotusland Newsletter, Spring 2015

Bright new leaves of an ornamental Japanese maple frame the garden view.

Santa Barbara had been “a delightful little rural community” prior to 1890, states Victoria Padilla in Southern California Gardens  (1961), but by then “had definitely become a floralconscious community, eager to raise… the lesser known trees, shrubs, and palms. As the infrastructure of roads, water delivery systems and eventually electricity were implemented, estates with more refined gardens were built.” A few of them followed a national trend to include Japanese-style gardens—a fashion that spread rapidly after Japan, isolated for several centuries from foreigners, decided to show the world how far Japan had come by creating a grand display at Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exposition. Millions of visitors to the Japanese pavilion, bazaar and gardens were captivated by the simple elegance of the Japanese arts and architecture at a time when American fashion was “smothered in the gravy of Victorian taste.” Japan’s exhibit at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago continued to broaden American enchantment with all things Japanese.

There was a period in the pre- World War II history of estate building in Santa Barbara when many private gardens with Japanese elements were created, including Mrs. John J. Mitchell’s El Mirador, and The Knight and Brundage Estates, but very few of these remain in Santa Barbara today. The pre-World War II Storrier-Stearns garden in Pasadena, restored in 2010, was designed and executed by Kunzichii Fujii, the father of Frank Fujii who worked with Madame Walska to build her Japanese garden.

The trend of building Japanese gardens in the United States hit a decisive low when Pearl Harbor was bombed and, in a display of patriotism, most Japanese gardens in the United States were demolished. After the war, the influence of Japanese sensibilities on American design resumed and a new set of elite Americans built new Japanese gardens.

The Japanese garden at Lotusland, created in the late 1960s, is the only remaining post-World War II Japanese Garden that is open to the public on the California central coast between Los Angeles and the Bay area. According to Ken Brown in Japanese-Style Gardens of the Pacific West Coast  (1999), “Madame Ganna Walska pursued a unique vision on her estate Lotusland. Although Walska…had never been to Japan, the popularity of Japanese-style gardens among such friends as Barbara Hutton and the exotic associations of the genre likely fueled her desire for one.” Brown also feels that “the Lotusland Japanese garden…is very much I think about the local site, lanterns mainly from the area, and Madame Walska’s love of a variety of botanical species. …these are the qualities that distinguish it from the mainstream.”

A flowering cherry tree brings spring to life along the main path.

While it is true that very few “Japanese” gardens in America actually follow the strict tenets of Japanese garden design, and, even of those that do, it is argued that only gardens in Japan are truly “authentic.” This does not diminish the importance of the Japanese gardens that exist in the U.S., particularly those built during the Golden Age of estate building in America and again after World War II. These conceptual Japanese gardens, or Japanese-style gardens, are important period pieces in the history of American gardens and exemplify the incorporation of a Japanese or Asian aesthetic into American gardens at significant periods in the history of American garden design.

There are several layers of history represented in Lotusland’s Japanese garden. In the late 1880s, R. Kinton Stevens constructed a reservoir in what had been a clay quarry to collect rainwater for irrigation. After Stevens’ death in 1896, the level of water was allowed to recede. The Gavit family (c. 1918 to 1938) built paths around the lowered pond and used it for recreation.

The pond was already densely filled with Asian lotuses planted by Stevens when Madame Walska purchased the property. She conceived of a Japanesestyle garden around the pond, and her scrapbooks with Japanese-themed clippings date from 1964 through 1972. During that time, she commissioned plans from several architects and although the plans were never implemented as drawn, Madame Walska may have incorporated some of the elements into the planted garden. She hired stone mason Ozzie Da Ros and aesthetic pruner Frank Fujii to purchase and install stones, lanterns and plants. Many of the lanterns came from other Japanese gardens that were being dismantled by the owners of private estates in Santa Barbara.

The garden continued to evolve over several years including the addition of an azalea bed, designed by her garden superintendent Charles Glass. He also enhanced the adjacent “bamboo pond,” adding a waterfall and a stone lantern that was moved from another location in the garden.

This antique Buddha statue holds a floral offering nearly every day.

Following Madame Walska’s death in 1984, the Board of Trustees hired Koichi Kawana, a lecturer at UCLA who specialized in Japanese garden design, to aid in refreshing the Japanese garden. Two significant results from Kawana’s recommendations were the installation of a Shinto-style shrine within a new grove of conifers, as well as a freestanding pergola planted with wisteria vines and low benches on a high point of the garden’s perimeter. Large black pebbles were added to define the “beach” next to the koi pond.

One underlying influence throughout the creation of the Japanese garden from 1968 until 2007 was the vision that Frank Fujii had to make a harmonious garden of appropriate plants, stones, ornaments and other enhancements to the garden. Frank Fujii guided the aesthetic of the garden even during Madame Walska’s lifetime, under the influence of the Lotusland Board with Dr. Kawana’s input, and long after. Frank Fujii worked the garden well into his 80s, but by the time he retired in 2007, the complete vision he and Madame Walska shared for the garden had yet to be realized. Before Mr. Fujii left Lotusland, he recorded aspects of his and Madame Walska’s long-term vision for continued aesthetic modifications in the garden so that one day the garden could be completed.

The view from the pergola designed by Koichi Kawana.

After three years of intense study of the complex layers of the Japanese garden, we are now considering several elements that need renovation as well as some that Mr. Fujii envisioned, all to be addressed in a large renovation project we hope to begin this year. For example, Lotusland was created as a private estate, but now that it is a public garden, many of the pathways are not sufficiently wide or appropriately sloped, or constructed with appropriate materials. Lotusland commissioned an ADA Accessibility Report, which provides recommendations for renovating paths to ensure safe access for all, and we will incorporate these to accommodate all public visitors without compromising the aesthetic integrity of the garden.

The clay-bottom pond was not originally intended to be an aesthetic feature of the estate, but has evolved to that. Lotusland is committed to managing the pond sustainably and allowing a natural bio-system to occur in the pond. Ultimately, the desired aesthetic of the pond is greater water clarity so the koi fish can be viewed, while maintaining the reflective quality on the surface of the water. The long-term vision for the pond also includes an access point at the edge of the pond containing the lotuses so that visitors may approach them more closely.

Other issues we plan to address in the renovation are removal and replacement of aging trees and plants that cannot be saved, replacement of plants long lost from the garden, restoration of lost design elements, and inclusion of new design elements to meet our accessibility goals. We are pleased to have a team of two firms who are well versed in historic landscape restoration as well as Japanese garden tradition and design —Arcadia Studios, with Derrik Eichelberger as lead, and Paul Comstock Landscape, with Paul Comstock as lead, are partnering with us to fulfill this Japanese Garden Renovation Project. The team is working now to prepare a master landscape plan and a preliminary budget, which we hope to present to donors this spring. Once we have secured sufficient funding, the team will create construction documents and a final budget to launch a competitive bid process. Construction will take several months, and the Japanese garden will be closed during that time.