Gardens of Lotusland


As pleasing as the aesthetic and sensorial qualities are, Lotusland is also an important center for scientific research and conservation. A leader in sustainable practices and a pioneer in botanic gardening that promotes and teaches organic gardening methods and the benefits of environmental stewardship.


Winter months find Lotusland’s Aloe Garden filled with spectacular red, yellow, and orange flowers, accompanied by the buzzy song of hummingbirds. Many people are familiar with Aloe vera due to its medicinal qualities, yet Aloe vera is just one of over 600 species in the genus Aloe. A diverse group of plants whose native range stretches from South Africa and Madagascar to the Arabian Peninsula, aloes range in size from the diminutive Aloe descoingsii with its tiny rosettes to the massive tree-like Aloe barberae. Lotusland’s spectacular Aloe Garden contains more than 160 Aloe species.


In 1993, landscape architect, Sydney Baumgartner designed the Australian Garden incorporating masses of unusual plants to pay homage to Madame Ganna Walska’s distinctive landscaping style. This is a garden of a relatively unknown group of plants, all native to Australia, aptly set within the old eucalyptus grove.


The Blue Garden started in 1948 as a Silver Garden with the planting of Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca’ (blue atlas cedar) by Madame Ganna Walska. It evolved into the Blue Garden as she added blue-foliaged plants to complement the cedars. At the time, color-themed gardens were considered quite chic, and at its prime in the mid-1950s, Lotusland’s Blue Garden was celebrated as one of the most fascinating gardens in California. It is as relevant now as it was in Madame Walska’s era. Plants living in the Blue Garden are drought-tolerant and thrive in Santa Barbara’s dry Mediterranean climate.


The pineapple is the most commonly known bromeliad, a diverse group of plants in the family Bromeliaceae. Some grow in soil, some on rocks, and others—like Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides)—grow without any soil by taking water and nutrients from the air. This diverse plant group contains over 3,000 species and grows from sea level to over 14,000 feet altitude in the Andes, and from the wet tropics to deserts. Other than a single species in western Africa, the bromeliad family is entirely from the tropics and subtropics of the Americas. Bromeliads are ornamental, both for their unique foliage and flowers, with innumerable hybrids and cultivars.


This significant collection was bequeathed to Lotusland in 1966 by Merritt Dunlap, a longtime friend of Madame Ganna Walska, and then transported to Lotusland beginning in 1999. The move from Dunlap’s home in San Diego to Lotusland was a sight to behold: Stake-sided trucks with hundreds of towering cacti rolling down the highway, wooden boxes constructed around their excavated roots, and crates to hold their branches together. A total of 530 plants were moved from San Diego to Lotusland, each with a meticulous record of its orientation to the sun for replanting.


This group of unusual cone-bearing plants was so common during the time of the dinosaurs that many refer to the Jurassic Period as the “Age of Cycads.” Today they are the most threatened plant group on the planet. Shrinking wild populations of cycads are threatened by over-collecting, deforestation, agricultural clearing, and urban sprawl. Lotusland cares for many species of threatened cycads with five species in the collection that are believed to be extinct in the wild.


Sixty-two miles west of Morocco, Africa, the unbelievable dragon tree (Dracaena draco) was first identified in 1402. Dragon trees are native to the Canary Islands, Cape Verde Islands, Madeira, and in a recent discovery, limited stands in western Morocco.
Part of the asparagus family, the dragon tree gets its distinct name due to its blood-red sap, often called “dragon’s blood” that oozes out when the bark is cut or bruised. 


The shade-loving Fern Garden provides an air of whimsy, as towering prehistoric ferns provide dappled sunlight on the myriad shaped leaves of begonias. When in bloom, the bell-like flowers of angel’s trumpets (Brugmansia versicolor) herald visitors, while redwoods and oaks add to an overall feeling of ancient timelessness. First created between 1968 and 1972 and designed by horticulturist Bill Paylen, the Garden was given an addition on its east side in 1987. The pool includes a sandy “beach” sporting giant clam shells, the same type of shells used for the fountains of the Aloe Garden. Madame Ganna Walska had the pool created for her niece, Hania, who lived with her mother and father in a cottage on the estate.


At Lotusland, we believe healthy living soil is the foundation for healthy plants, and predator species are the foundation for a balanced food chain. The Insectary Garden attracts predator insects to eat pests and an array of pollinators are attracted to its year-round display of flowers and fragrances. Lotusland’s soils are enriched with our brew of compost tea, and we encourage birds of prey that help perform pest control. Our sustainable horticulture program ensures a safe and non-toxic environment for staff and visitors and protects our community’s potable water supply and ocean health.


During the late 1960s, the Japanese Garden was one of the most significant and challenging accomplishment at Lotusland. Long before the idea was conceived, Madame Walska had a skilled Japanese gardener on her staff—Frank Fujii. Having previously worked with his father, Kintsuchi Fujii, who helped create the Japanese Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, Frank took on the project and continued to maintain and enhance the garden until his retirement in 2007. In 2019, the Japanese Garden reopened after a multi-year comprehensive restoration and renovation.


The E.P. Gavit family of Albany, NY purchased the Tanglewood property in 1915 and commissioned Pasadena architect Reginald Johnson to design a Mediterranean mansion for the estate they renamed Cuesta LindaKnown locally for his award-winning structures such as the Santa Barbara Biltmore, the Music Academy of the West (the former estate known as Mira Flores), and Santa Barbara’s downtown post office, Reginald Johnson continued to build impressive homes in Montecito, Hope Ranch, and Pasadena for several decades.


Madame Walska may have inherited an established orchard from the Gavit family when she purchased the estate, but in her style, she wanted one of everything, particularly exotic fruits such as papaya and cherimoya. Now, the Orchard is home to a wide variety of trees. The Deciduous Orchard contains peaches, plums, apples, pears, persimmons, and figs. The Citrus Orchard is brimming with orange, lemon, lime, kumquat, grapefruit, and guava trees.


Considered by many as one of the most enchanting areas of Lotusland, the Olive Allée is home to a variety of olive cultivars. Originally planted by Kinton Stevens as nursery stock, the olive trees now entice visitors with an unforgettable entrance to the Cactus Garden.


Palm trees are an iconic feature in central and southern California, but only one species, the California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera), is native to the state. Palms are mostly tropical and subtropical plants requiring regular watering, yet hardier species thrive in California’s dry climate. Many palms in California have been harvested for their dates, jelly, and wine. Lotusland is home to a wide variety of species, including over 375 mature palms. While many are spread around the estate, our Paletum has over 60 different types of palms to enjoy.
Finished in 2017, the Paletum was funded through donations and designed by Eric Nagelmann.


A “parterre” is a formal ornamental flower garden designed to form a pattern. The Gavit family commissioned this parterre in the late 1920s, creating traditional planting beds, brick walkways, and two central water features. Madame Walska later added her own touch, including whimsical pebble mosaics. The parterre is quite distinct from our winding paths and asymmetrical gardens: it is an Italian style garden with Spanish and Moorish elements, arranged with multiple axes.
Tucked in the Parterre is Lotusland’s beautiful Rose Garden. In the summer months, our  ‘Hot Cocoa’, ‘Julia Child’, and ‘Livin’ Easy’ roses are in full bloom.


By the 1950s, Lotusland was attracting the attention of serious succulent enthusiasts, including Charles Glass, editor for the Cactus and Succulent Journal. Glass and his colleague Robert Foster saw Lotusland as important for current and future students of botany. Worried the Garden might not survive beyond Madame Ganna Walska’s death, they came to Lotusland to work, starting with a 1973 renovation of the Succulent Garden. Originally created in the 1940s, the Succulent Garden had drainage issues. To benefit the health of the succulents, Glass and Foster renovated the soil to improve drainage. This was one of many significant projects the pair undertook to enhance the living collections.


Created in 1948 by designer Ralph Stevens, Lotusland’s Theatre Garden serves as a reminder of Madame Ganna Walska’s love of theatre—she owned the Paris landmark Théâtre des Champs Élysées for five decades—as well as her strong affinity for France. It is reminiscent of the theatre gardens Madame Walska experienced in her European travels. The stage wings and dressing room are composed of African fern pine (Afrocarpus gracilior), and the natural stage lights are made of variegated Japanese sedge (Carex morrowii ‘Aurea-variegata’). The tall hedges bordering the Garden were originally Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) but were converted to African boxwood (Myrsine africana) during the 1990 renovation of the Garden by landscape designer Isabelle Greene.


Lotusland’s topiaries and horticultural clock are representative of the spectacular features incorporated into American estate gardens during the early and mid-twentieth century. This Garden’s centerpiece is a working clock that is 25 feet in diameter. The clock face features three different low-growing succulents and copper zodiac signs, all bordered by a ring of chalk sticks (Senecio mandraliscae). Currently, there are 26 topiary figures including a camel, a gorilla, a giraffe, a seal, and chess pieces. Madame Walska referred to the topiaries surrounding the clock as her “horticultural zoo.”


The Tropical Garden began with Madame Ganna Walska’s collection of Epiphyllum in the late 1970s. Compared to other gardens in Lotusland, which were intricately planned, the Tropical Garden is a culmination of these original Epiphyllum and years of gardeners planting tropical species around them. As you walk through the Tropical Garden, enjoy the lushness of the colossal foliage and shade provided by the canopy.


June through September, Lotusland’s Water Garden is home to a magnificent displays of its namesake flower, lotus (Nelumbo), tropical and hardy waterlilies (Nymphaea), and giant waterlilies (Victoria). Designed by acclaimed architect George Washington Smith in the 1920s, the center pond was the original swimming pool for the previous owners.  After Madame Ganna Walska purchased the property, the pool began leaking. Estimates to repair it were costly. Instead, Madame Walska filled the bottom with soil and gravel to bring the water level to its current three-foot depth and had it converted to a water garden.


Ganna Walska Lotusland, with its rare and exotic specimens and unique themed gardens, is an unrivaled botanic treasure and a favorite destination for visitors from both the community and around the world. Open to the public since 1993, Lotusland serves a broad range of audiences including local school children.
Today, a significant endowment is required to meet the rising expense of maintaining Madame Walska’s rare plant collections and to continue valuable community programs promoting sustainable gardening, conservation, and horticultural research.