Japanese Garden Renovation News & Updates

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Japanese Garden Renovation. Completion of the Pond!

The Prerequisite for careful synchronization of many complicated operations is what makes the renovation of the Japanese Garden so complex. Proper sequencing of each and every step is critical as we systematically rebuild the garden.

For example, setting heavy boulders and boxed trees into place requires a crane that must be positioned in the pond to safely reach the target location for each boulder and tree, some of which can weigh more than several tons. However, the pond liner, made of a 30-millimeter PVC liner placed on geotextile fabric and sealed with a layer of concrete, can be damaged if heavy equipment is driven on it.

The distance the crane can reach before it will tip over is limited by the weight of the object being lifted, so all the crane work for the first of four project phases must be completed before the first phase pond liner is installed, and all the first phase trees and boulders must be on site and ready to go when the crane is called in. The timing of these and numerous other construction steps for each phase demands meticulous planning and intense coordination by the entire renovation team made up of diverse trades and expertise.

Now 11 months into the renovation, (with a delay of two months due to the disasters), we have completed reconstruction of the pond. The liner is fully installed and the final crane has returned the massive stone bridge – 17,000 pounds – to its original position. The main waterfall, originally built by Ozzie Da Ros, now flows as he first intended. By the end of January all the waterworks in the Japanese Garden will be fully functioning and the Lotusland horticultural team will be trained to operate the state-of-the-art biofiltration system that controls the biological condition of the water. We look forward to returning the koi and their recent offspring to their aquatic home where we can view them from the recently completed Lotus Viewing Deck.

In addition to the precise timing of every move of the reconstruction, the protection of historic aspects of the garden has required cautious maneuvering of earth moving equipment to grade the handicap accessible paths without damaging trees and boulders we left in place to be preserved. While the grading of the paths was one of the very first procedures in the renovation, critical to establishing all the grades throughout the garden, the finishing of the paths with paving materials will be one of the very last steps. With path grades set, the landscape team finished the installation of trees in the first and second phases of the garden, ameliorated the existing soils with compost as prescribed by the Lotusland team, and installed irrigation. Planting of the shrub layer has begun so that the south side of the garden looks ready for guests. Phase three is well underway, and phase four has just begun.

Before the disasters, our completion date was March 2019. Disaster evacuations and delays have moved the completion date to May 2019, depending on this winter’s weather. That said, progress is brisk and the daily changes are very noticeable. We have removed the green screen from the construction fence so you may watch the team’s efforts and the garden’s evolution from the safety of the main drive. If you are interested in joining us for a tour inside the garden to witness the team’s efforts and get an intimate experience of the garden’s evolution as you consider a gift to help us complete our renovation project campaign, please contact Rebecca Anderson at 805.969.3767, ext. 104.
— Gwen Stauffer

Japanese Garden Renovation – Summer Progress.

THE RENOVATION OF THE JAPANESE GARDEN is the largest and most complex project ever undertaken at Lotusland. The team executing the project is made up of several different trades and professions, all working in coordination to take advantage of summer’s long and sunny days to make incredible progress.

Lotus Viewing Deck nears completion.

The south side of the pond liner, made of a 30-millimeter PVC liner placed on geotextile fabric and sealed with a layer of concrete, has been installed , and includes planting beds for aquatic plants. The liner is finished to look like a clay and rock bottom. Boulders that once graced the edges of the pond were carefully inventoried, tagged, photographed and set aside before the renovation, and are now being carefully placed back to their original location. Installation of the pond liner on the west side of the pond is underway, and installation of the Lotus Viewing Deck, bridge and Torii Landing will be finished this autumn.

The small pond by the large forest of bamboo by the Aloe Garden has been rebuilt with a deep liner to support koi and aquatic plants, with a new waterfall to replace the historic one that did not function. A new path through the bamboo leads to a clearing at the pond’s edge, across from the waterfall, where visitors can sit on a stone bench in the shade and relax to the sound of water gently tumbling over boulders.

The Bamboo Pond is being refurbished.

Dismantling of the waterfall built by Ozzie Da Ros is underway. After the boulders were carefully inventoried and removed, the team will replace failed plumbing and install a new liner behind the waterfall and along the stream to stop leaking and erosion. Some time ago — longer than anyone can remember — the waterfall stopped working as designed, and all of us can’t wait to see it flowing again as Ozzie intended.

One of the most difficult challenges of the project has been the placement of paths that are fully accessible per requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Santa Barbara County. We want the garden to be fully accessible with as few steps as possible and without handrails. The difficulty of making gently sloping paths within the existing steep grade is made greater by our priority to save as many trees as possible. To save the trees we must avoid disturbing their roots. Careful excavation around the large Araucarias on the southeast corner of the garden to reveal surface roots forced us to reroute the paths several times until we were able to meet all our objectives.

All the ponds use a multi-layer liner technology.

In early September, Lotusland staff led donors through the Japanese Garden to witness our renovation progress and learn about the complex process of putting the garden back together. If you are interested in joining us for a progress tour as you consider a gift to help us complete our renovation project campaign, please contact Rebecca Anderson at 805.969.3767, ext. 104




Japanese Garden Renovation – Halfway to Completion

OVER A YEAR AGO WE STARTED taking the Japanese Garden apart, carefully and deliberately, to save trees, lanterns and koi that are iconic to the garden. We drained the pond to dry it out over the summer so that equipment could enter without getting mired in the clay mud. This process of “de-construction” is a key step in garden renovation, but it can be emotionally difficult to see a beautiful space destroyed.

Foundation for the lotus viewing deck is nearly completed.

Pablo Picasso famously said, “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” Now, a year later, the Japanese Garden is showing signs of its rebirth as the most tranquil and loved garden at Lotusland.

Foundation for the lotus viewing deck is nearly completed.With the excavation of tons of clay complete, we are now forming the new edges of the pond to prepare for the installation of the liner. We have built the foundation for the new Torii landing, which will allow visitors to gather at the bottom of the Torii steps. The concrete foundations for the south bridge and lotus viewing deck have been constructed, and the wood bridge and deck are being fabricated in the shop of master carpenter Jamie Nelson. At the same time, a new foundation is being built for the garden’s iconic stone bridge.

The Torii landing will create a gathering place at the bottom of the steps.

Shortly after the foundations are constructed, the liner will be installed on the pond’s south side in three layers. First, geotextile fabric will be placed on the bare ground to protect the liner from protruding objects like rocks and roots, then a 30-millimeter PVC liner is set in place, neatly tucked in at the pond’s top edge. Then this is sealed with a layer of concrete to protect the liner on top. As the concrete is installed, rocks that previously graced the pond edge will be put back in place. We anticipate the pond to be fully constructed by this autumn.

In late 2017 we broke ground on this project with 75% of funds raised. The Thomas fire and mudslide interrupted the campaign as well as the project. With our goal in sight, we hope all our members and supporters will be inspired to join us in rebuilding this iconic garden.

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.

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

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.