In Montecito, California, “Madame” Ganna Walska created one of the most unique public botanic gardens in the world. Take a look inside.

Lotusland botanic garden

© Lotusland. Rizzoli New York, 2022. Photography © Lisa Romerein.

Anyone who’s ever visited the botanic garden Ganna Walska Lotusland, which is situated on a formerly private estate in Montecito, California, knows that it was created by a true original. “Madame” Ganna Walska was born in Poland, married a Russian baron, toured as an opera singer, married five more times, became a widely known spiritual seeker, and spent 43 years creating one of the most unique public botanic gardens in the world.

Spread over 37 acres, Lotusland is not merely home to more than 3,400 types of plants—including at least 35,000 individual specimens—it inspires a sense of unfettered wonder in all who visit.

Lotusland botanic garden pathway

© Lotusland. Rizzoli New York, 2022. Photography © Lisa Romerein.

Lotusland resonates with people because there’s this fantastical nature to the garden, coupled with a very vital and dynamic plant collection that’s displayed like nowhere else,” says Rebecca Anderson, the garden’s executive director.

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The whimsy she speaks of is everywhere: A true collector, Walska populated the gardens with fountains made of large clamshells, a lion sculpture with a tangle of Spanish moss for hair, and commedia dell’arte-style grotesques that populate the Theater Garden like naughty woodland sprites.

Lotusland in Montecito, California

© Lotusland. Rizzoli New York, 2022. Photography © Lisa Romerein.

The plantings themselves display her unique sensibilities, as well. From the Bromeliad Garden, which includes a rare bromeliad that produces edible fruit, to the repetition of golden barrel cactus in front of the estate, Walska was known to employ respected landscape architects like Lockwood de Forest, Jr. to help her, but only insofar as she wanted to be helped.

Lotusland book cover
Lotusland by photographer Lisa Romerein
with foreword by Marc Appleton,
from Rizzoli. $60; rizzoliusa.com.
© Lotusland. Rizzoli New York, 2022.
Photography © Lisa Romerein.

“In the end,” Anderson says, “she was the artist with the paintbrush.”

“Had she played by the rules of traditional design or kept to herself when people told her the rights and the wrongs of how to approach this property,” Anderson continues, “it never would have been as wonderful.”

Reservations for Lotusland can be made by calling 805-969-9990, or online at lotusland.org.