Situated on 37 glorious acres in Montecito, California, Lotusland is considered one of the most remarkable botanical gardens in the world. It’s the living legacy of Madame Ganna Walska, a Polish stage performer who began cultivating the flora-filled paradise in the 1940s. Today, Lotusland is on the eve of its 30th anniversary as a beloved public space. We chatted with Executive Director Rebecca Anderson about the garden’s history, her favorite spot on the estate and how the public can be of support.
What makes Lotusland so standout as a public botanical garden?
Since opening to the public in 1993, Ganna Walska Lotusland has become one of the world’s premier botanical gardens and serves as a center for horticultural education, sustainable garden practices and plant conservation. Additionally, its estate architecture; eccentric, whimsical and beautiful landscape design; and non-living collections of decorative features make for an unparalleled garden adventure.
Can you give us a brief history of how Lotusland came to be?
In her will of 1979, Madame Ganna Walska entrusted her beloved Lotusland to the Ganna Walska Lotusland Trustees to ensure that her legacy would endure for the pleasure of generations to come. She directed that Lotusland become “the most outstanding center of horticultural significance and educational use.”
From 1984 to 1993, the founding trustees concentrated on preparing Lotusland to begin public tours. The condition of landscaping, plant collections and buildings — which had suffered from considerable deferred maintenance toward the end of Madame Walska’s life — required extensive efforts. Lotusland welcomed its first public guests in September 1993. For nearly 30 years, Lotusland has been transitioning from a former private estate to a public garden. Lotusland’s world-renowned design and collections, and Madame Walska’s dream merit this special place be preserved and cared for.
Even today, how is Madame Walska’s influence still evident?
Ganna Walska Lotusland is a botanic garden that has repeatedly been recognized as one of the top gardens in the world due to its creativity, mature and significant living collections, and impeccable care and design. The spectacular collections of more than 3,000 exotic plants, organized into 20 distinct gardens through the 37-acre property, are a very personal expression of Madame Walska’s penchant for the dramatic, the unexpected and the whimsical.
Why do you think Lotusland remains so popular?
A rich fabric of garden lore along with extraordinary design and scientifically important plant collections make Lotusland an internationally renowned garden. Visitors feel they are guests of a remarkable private estate, where respect for historical features and design is apparent in the appearance and care of the grounds, buildings and collections.
Do you personally have a favorite spot on the estate?
I adore the entire garden and find rapture in different areas on different days. Some of my favorite design aspects are the mass plantings developed by Madame Walska, which are adorned with her decorative artifacts and give each garden encounter the experience of entering a living museum.
How can the public best support Lotusland?
Despite its affluent appearance, Lotusland struggles financially and, despite effective fundraising, runs a deficit each year due to the severe limits on earned income through ticket sales (comprising just 10% of the organization’s revenue).
Lotusland has gained a valued reputation for its unique style of distinctively American design and its high level of organic and sustainable gardening practices. Now, as we commemorate the garden’s 30th anniversary, our vision remains to preserve and protect the spectacular property left by Madame Walska while bringing the garden to its next era. With private support, we seek to build an enduring garden through endowment building, the restoration and revival of existing buildings, preservation of the living collections and conservation of the non-living collections.