Memoirs Of A Garden

By Lynda Millner   |   August 8, 2019
Tri-chairs for the Lotusland event Setenay Osman, Nati Smith, and Belle Hahn

“Lotusland was created by Polish opera singer Madame Ganna Walska, and visitors should prepare themselves for the ultimate theatrical garden experience. Perhaps only in the climate and culture of Southern California could such a creation have been conceived and accepted, a fantasy of remarkable set-pieces of design and planting quite unlike any other garden.” The quote came from Christopher Bailes, a Chelsea Flower Show judge and Royal Horticultural Society member. Other accolades: “One of 14 gardens to visit before you die,” from Better Homes and Gardens. One of the 100 top gardens to visit worldwide and it’s right here in Montecito for you to visit.

This year’s sold out gala fundraiser theme was “Lotusland celebrates: Memoirs of a Garden.” Tri chairs Setenay Osman, Belle Hahn, and Nati Smith, along with a host of others, created this magical afternoon. It evolved from the newly reopened Japanese Garden after two and one half years and $6 million.

Akiko Kobori and Hiroko Benko at Lotusland. Hiroko owns the Condor Express and is from Japan originally.

Before Lotusland, Ganna Walska had six husbands. Then she dedicated the next 43 years of her life to creating her garden. It covers 37 acres and has 21 distinct gardens. She had a penchant for the dramatic, the unexpected, and the whimsical. After her death in 1983 it became a nonprofit botanic garden open to the public.

As guests arrived there was a beautiful photo op. Then began a stroll through the gardens with a surprise around every corner from a dancer in the Japanese Garden, to Madam Butterfly being sung in another. There was origami folding, taiko drummers, and a bonsai display. Did you know bonsai means “plant in a pot?” Along the way wine and canapés were being served by a multitude of waiters.

On the Great Lawn was a cocktail lounge and a busy bar passing out signature cocktails. Duo served a seated dinner on the lawn with oriental centerpieces and Japanese inspired entrées. The world-renowned auctioneer August O. Uribe managed the auction block with naming rights to Madame’s favorite lantern in the Japanese Garden. It has never been moved since she placed it. Another item was an exclusive trip to New York City including one of the most coveted Zen Gardens outside of Japan – a private never before seen by the public masterpiece. Also up for bids was a trip to one of Italy’s best medieval villages. Or you could have a portrait by the acclaimed illustrator David Downton, and the list goes on.

A view of the new Japanese Garden
Lotusland executive director Gwen Stauffer with Jeff Romano and Stan Shayer

Chief Executive Officer Gwen Stauffer tells us, “Japanese gardens are designed specifically to generate a sense of well-being so that those who enter are drawn into contemplation.” It has been measured by professionals that the effect is more profound than any other style of garden. Eye movement slows down, an indication of reduced anxiety. The designs encourage self-reflection and pause.

During the renovation of the Japanese Garden, Lotusland kept track of data from the emerging science and hopes to create wellness programs in the Garden. You are invited to come to stroll, linger, relax, and refresh.

Photo op at the beginning of Lotusland for Ginni Dreier and Amil Garcia
Guests at Lotusland Nancy Gifford and Vee Noelle

Lotusland has a font of information in their archives. Ganna Walska kept detailed files of correspondence relating to the garden, her musical career, art collections, spiritual matters, and husbands. One of her men who worked for her was Charlie Glass, 1973 to 1984. He kept excellent track of his work but oddly nothing about the Cycad Garden in 1978. Twenty years later a three-ring binder was discovered detailing every cycad planted. It was owned by a private cycad collector. Jeff Chemnick, a cycad expert, was visiting and saw the binder. Jeff was told by the collector that if he would buy a certain plant he would throw in the notebook. Of course, Jeff did but no one knows how that collector came to possess this priceless information.

For information regarding the garden or tours, call 805.969.3767.


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