Lotusland is the thirty-four acre estate in Santa Barbara where Ganna Walska lived for the last forty years of her life. She died in 1984 at the age of 91 leaving behind her remarkable garden.
In her autobiography, Always Room at the Top,
Walska spoke frankly, "Everything I have achieved, I owe entirely to myself." If her statement was weighted toward the dramatic then it was, one can gather, entirely in keeping with Walska's dramatic flair. From a life which included six marriages—a number to rich and powerful men—a checkered operatic career, frequent transatlantic travel, and a considerable amount of attention in gossip columns, her garden remains her most popular legacy.
Walska loved the most exotic plants she could find, and lots of them—as this grove of beaucarnea recurvata
illustrates. By all accounts, she paid scant heed to convention, and her garden remains evidence of this, in spite of its now well-run institutional flavor.
The docent leading our tour of the grounds, clearly feeling the pressure to maintain an uninterrupted flow of visitors, was vigilant, lest one of us stray from her sight. Her fears were soon confirmed as I tarried behind fascinated by the botanical splendor surrounding me.
"We’re all waiting for you," our docent was forced to scold loudly.
At one point, we came to an old oak tree with a number of bird-feeders hanging from its wide spreading limbs. Someone asked about the metal conical hats deployed just above each feeder. "Ganna invented those," the docent said, "to keep the squirrels out."
I never had the pleasure of meeting Ganna Walska, but couldn't help feeling grateful for her still astonishing garden. It continues to speak for her, and I couldn't help thinking, she wouldn't have minded if I lagged behind.