A Magical Day at Lotusland

Have you ever heard of Lotusland? Being a lover of botanical gardens, Lotusland has long been on my bucket list to visit. For one reason or another, the stars had yet to align for me to go. Until last month. The 37-acre oasis had been on my mind and I figured I’d finally pay a visit once Mabel is older. I was thrilled to receive an invite to their annual Lotusland Celebrates. It was a true “pinch me” kind of moment.

Lotusland is nestled in beautiful Montecito, home to Prince Harry and Oprah. It’s just steps from the ocean and a few miles from Santa Barbara. Since it’s recognized as one of the top 10 gardens in the world, it’s no surprise how special it was for me to at last experience its beauty.

The History of Lotusland

Eccentric opera singer, Ganna Walska, purchased Lotusland in 1941. Although she was infamous for being a mediocre vocalist, Ganna had half a dozen husbands in her lifetime helping fuel her musical passions. Funny enough, Mike recently showed me, Citizen Kane, for the first time. Remember Kane’s affair and marriage to the average opera star? The characters were inspired by Ganna and her fourth husband, Harold Fowler McCormick.

Ganna’s original plan for her beloved Lotusland was to host retreats for Tibetan monks. Given that we were in the middle of the war, the monks were unable to obtain travel visas. Instead, Ganna made the beautiful haven her own. By the time of her death in 1984, thousands of exotic plants and flowers adorned the estate that still lives on today. She left her fortune and gardens to the Ganna Walska Lotusland Foundation. As a charity non-profit, the spectacular property opened its doors to the public in 1993.

The Japanese Garden. (c) Mary Farah
Lotuses galore. (c) Mary Farah
One of my favorite cars. (c) Mary Farah

Bringing the Petal to the Metal

On the morning of my small road trip from LA to Montecito, it was very overcast. I encountered traffic in true California form and wondered if it’d remain gloomy at the gardens. As I crawled through Ventura with the Pacific Ocean on my left, there were even some raindrops! Yet, when I hit the Santa Barbara County line, the sun was shining and it was a postcard-perfect day.

As soon as you arrive at Lotusland, you know it’s something special. Given the state of the world, all fundraising events went virtual last year. This year’s summer soiree, Petal to the Metal, welcomed back visitors in person. The event featured a dazzling showcase of Italian automobiles on the Great Lawn. Some of the makes included Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Lamborghini, Lancia, and Siata. Over $400 million in cars were on hand, with one costing $40 million alone. I adore car shows and seeing such gorgeous models at one of the best gardens in the world was priceless.

Beyond the vintage vehicles, several artists were also on hand. It was hard to miss Metal Fabricator Alex Rasmussen’s eye-catching metal installation overlooking the Great Lawn. While Chris Wyrick’s paintings inspired by the gardens were displayed at the Japanese Garden and Wishing Well.

Alex Rasmussen’s installment. (c) Mary Farah
Beautiful cars on display on the Great Lawn. (c) Mary Farah
The “Grotesque” statues. (c) Mary Farah

Exploring the Gardens

Lotusland boasts numerous gardens each focusing on distinct plants, flowers, and trees. The Japanese Garden greets you when you first arrive, and I soaked in its azaleas and Coastal Redwoods. After my lovely tour, I stumbled into the Cactus Garden. I loved its serenity and tranquility as I enjoyed a cup of Tondi Gelato.

While it’s difficult to choose a “favorite” garden, I, of course, loved the Theatre Garden. Ganna had a deep love for the arts (and cars, jewelry, costumes…) and this garden pays tribute to her home in Paris. The setting is intimate and comfortably fits a hundred guests. What I loved about this garden are Ganna’s “grotesque” statues. These dwarf-like stone figures belonged to Ganna before she had to flee Europe to the USA due to the war. She was able to be reunited with them and they live on at Lotusland. As I admired each of them, I couldn’t help but imagine faeries living here and hiding in the flowers. It felt magical.

This sold-out event and silent auction is the largest fundraising effort for the gardens. Along with the beautiful afternoon festivities, a farm-to-table dinner was hosted. Throughout the grounds, several tables were being prepared for the evening. Can you imagine enjoying your meal and wine with a view like this?

One of the many tables set up in the garden. (c) Mary Farah
Incredible silent auction items included this guitar signed by Katy Perry. (c) Mary Farah

Petal to the Metal was an ideal introduction to Lotusland since it allowed me to dig deeper into its fascinating history and learn from those who cherish its roots. Learn more and plan your visit HERE. I cannot wait to return and share this one-of-a-kind oasis with my daughter! xo

  1. Jennifer

    August 5, 2021 at 5:49 pm

    Fantastic recap and beautiful pictures!

    1. AlongComesMary

      August 23, 2021 at 5:46 pm

      Thanks so much, Jen!!:-) xo

  2. Deborah

    August 5, 2021 at 10:13 pm

    I’ve never heard of it. It looks like so much fun. I love gardens too.

    1. AlongComesMary

      August 23, 2021 at 5:45 pm

      It’s such a secret gem! Thanks for stopping by:-)

  3. Christine @FoodWineTravel

    August 5, 2021 at 11:57 pm

    This garden looks so beautiful, Mary. I wish we had known about it when we were in Santa Barbara a few years ago.

    1. AlongComesMary

      August 23, 2021 at 5:45 pm

      Hi Christine! How are you? I adored our time together in Washington:-) Hope you can visit Lotusland next time you visit! xo

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