by germinatrix | June 1st, 2009
There ARE magical places in this world.
Places where the air feels different; thicker, charged with vibration and potential. Some of these are cathedrals of nature; tropical mangrove forests, the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, Ayer’s Rock in Australia. Others are man made – and of these, some are gardens.
One of these places in in Montecito, CA, right outside of Santa Barbara – it is a surreal, brave, haunting garden. Lotusland.
Polish opera singer Ganna Walska, a remarkable character and charmer of millionaires, created these gardens with the help of several talented landscapers – but there is no doubt that it is her eccentric spirit that guided and controlled the vision. Her aim was to collect and showcase some of the rarest and most unusual denizens of the plant kingdom; she did this by deploying the considerable funds left to her by her five (five!) dead husbands, and her instinct for theatricality.
I fist visited Lotusland in 1996 – Nick and Laura arranged a Germinator meeting there. I was still a baby gardener back then, and this place made a deep impact on me . The amazing plants, the shifts in scale … and the story of a woman who was guided by a sense of the dramatic and who was able to translate that into the horticultural arena without formal training – this really spoke to me. Of course, I didn’t have the cash to hire experts to do my bidding, so I ended up acquiring my own version of hort training – but I may never have been inspired to design gardens as a career had I not been to this incredible place at a pivotal time in my life. I wouldn’t have had the guts.
In the years since that first visit, I’ve been back many times, and this time I came back with a definite purpose – my design for the project in the Yucatan is heavily influenced by Lotusland. I hope to channel the spirit of this place, mix it up with my own point of view, and let it loose on the 4 + acres I have to work with! Can I do it? I’m going to try!
While I love all of the garden spaces that make up Lotusland, I am particularly, unabashedly, head-over-heels gah-gah when it comes to the Aloe Garden. It is so completely over the top. There must be almost 150 different varieties of aloes here, all of them given the perfect conditions to achieve optimum growth. The tree aloes are enormous, the single trunked varieties tall and statuesque, the small ones are tight and compact, and they all manage to look incredible together. There is no tricky plant combining happening here – just pure form allowed to do it’s thing. And wow – it’s thing is pretty damned AMAZING!!!
This visit, I was focusing primarily on the Cycad Garden, the Aloe Garden, the Cactus Garden, and the Bromeliad Garden. The plants and design ideas in these spaces will directly impact what I’m putting together in the Yucatan. I’m especially excited about being able to use bromeliads and tillandsias, many of which are native to the region that the hacienda is in! One area I’m designing is an ‘Air Garden’, where all of the interest will be in the trees – we are using the existing trees and attaching epiphitic cactus, bromeliads, and tillandsias. If it is 1/4 as awesome as what I see in my brain, then I’ll be over the moon!
I took hundreds of pictures at Lotusland, and I want to post every one! But I won’t – yet! I’m sure they will make their way into future musings – how could they not.
In the event you plan on being in the Southern California area, do yourself a favor – make a reservation at Lotusland.org to spend a morning or an afternoon in this very special place. I used the work ‘magical’ earlier – and I mean it … magic has been made here, and it lingers. You can feel the fairy dust. Walk around, enjoy the surroundings, and some of that special pixie stuff will fall on you.
… and you will fall in love.
I guarantee it!