Rare columnar cactus create a landscape that seems out of this world

Surreal Succulents
The Cactus Garden (Ganna Walska Lotusland)

“Salvador Dalí meets the desert.” That’s how landscape designer Eric Nagelmann describes the new fantasy garden he created for Ganna Walska Lotusland in Santa Barbara. Nagelmann began with a collection of rare columnar cactus donated by Merritt Dunlap of Fallbrook, California, who spent more than 70 years acquiring plants. Dunlap’s bequest to the estate garden included 300 different kinds.

Nagelmann’s challenge ― though he saw it as an opportunity ― was to display the cactus in a setting as theatrical as the rest of Lotusland. He accomplished this by bringing in tons of boulders, an army of basalt columns, and a blanket of slate gray mulch, creating a labyrinth-like traffic pattern that leads to a dramatic overlook. Viewing the entire collection from this vantage point feels like looking out on a desert canyon on another planet. “I think this presentation is changing some people’s minds,” says Nagelmann. “I keep hearing, ‘I thought I hated cactus, but I love this garden.'” Info: Ganna Walska Lotusland (tours at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Wed-Sat through Nov 12, and returning mid-Feb; $15; reservations required; 805/969-9990)
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