Escaping to Lotusland: Santa Barbara's Magical Garden
Before our arrival to Santa Barbara, I had done a little research and digging to find the best ways we could immerse ourselves in the SB culture (after all, isn't that the way we should all travel?!). I came across some beautiful images of a place that looked like a secret, magical garden hidden in the depths of Santa Barbara. "What is this gorgeous place?!" I thought to myself. "TAKE ME NOW!"
These incredible, lush images I saw were from the world-renowned Ganna Walska Lotusland. Lotusland boasts a 37-acre estate filled with botanical beauties and natural wonders. There are numerous gardens and additional areas to explore throughout the property from Mid-February to Mid-November. I'm a big believer in spending time in nature for the mind, body, and soul, and so I knew that this was a place that Jay and I needed to check out.
How it All Began: The Woman Behind the Name
This whimsical garden was brought to life because of an extraordinary woman named Madame Ganna Walska. Originally from Poland, Ganna Walska was an unstoppable force who lived by her own rules (my kind of gal!). One of her mottos was, "I'm an enemy of the average." She was a well-known opera singer and socialite who performed for audiences in Paris, New York, and many other cities across the Americas and Europe.
After purchasing the estate in 1941 (which was formerly called Tibetland), Ganna Walska spent the next 43 years of her life curating and growing one of the world's most beautiful, personal horticultural collections. She would travel high and low throughout the world to find the perfect additions to her colorful landscape collection. It was even said that if Madame Walska was out for a drive and saw something she liked, she would send her driver inside the establishment to make an offer on purchasing what she wanted. Her hard work certainly paid off because today Lotusland is full of unique and enchanting tropical and subtropical plants from around the world.
Lotusland Today and How to Explore
After Madame Walska passed in 1984, the property was turned over to the Ganna Walska Lotusland Foundation. This nonprofit organization made the garden open to the public in 1993. People from all over the world are now able to come and visit the magical gardens of Ganna Walska Lotusland!
Because the property is located in a private, residential area of Santa Barbara, reservations are required to enter (more information below). When you call to make your reservation, you will be given the 2 time options for your guided tour. The guided tours are led by wonderful and extremely knowledgeable docents of the property. The tours will lead you around the entire estate while explaining some of the history and details of each garden.
The extraordinary collections, which take after the woman who created them, range from rare cycads, cacti, palms, succulents, ferns, aloes, and so many more! Some of the most popular attractions are the lotuses and waterlilies, which are typically seen in full bloom in the summer months. There are currently about 25 different main areas and gardens that you will see on your tour.
What to See and When to Go
Luckily, when you go on your guided tour, you will have a chance to walk through and see every breathtaking sight. There are gardens, statues, fountains, exotic and rare plants, and even a horticultural clock! However, these are my personal favorite things to see that you cannot miss:
- The Succulent Garden: Because I'm a frequent traveler and I'm always on the road, the only plants that I can ever successfully keep in my home are succulents! So because of this, I had a special connection to the Succulent Garden. Those plants are my favorites! And I also love how cute and small they can be, just like me :)
- The Water Garden: This is the famous garden where you will find all of the lotus flowers and water lilies. They typically start to bloom in the summer months, sometimes even around Ganna Walska's birthday in late June!
- The Blue Garden: Right in the heart of Lotusland is the Blue Garden, which was one of the most iconic gardens of the property. I fell in love with the blue and silverish colors of all the plants here. So magnificent!
- The Butterfly Garden (or Insectary Garden): This garden is the epitome of sustainable preservation and maintenance. Everything in this area is meant to recycle essential energy and nutrients, as well as attract positive pollinators, while deterring invasive species. We learned a lot about the sustainable practices here in this garden!
- The Orchards: You'll find lemon trees, orange trees, olive trees, and more amongst the orchards of Lotusland.
- The Cycad Garden: The cycad garden of Lotusland is world-renowned because of the extensive collection of specimens that live here. Ganna Walska sold over a million dollars worth of her personal jewelry to make this garden possible! Make sure to pay a visit to the three special Encephalartos woodii (aka "The 3 Bachelors"), which are among the world’s rarest cycads and extinct in the wild. They pleasantly sit on top of a small cliff which overlooks their own koi pond.
- The Parterre and Topiary Garden: This area is located just near the main house and is home to the iconic horticultural clock, rose gardens, and the Neptune fountain of Lotusland. It's a whimsical place to wander around.
- Theatre Garden: This little garden was unique to me because I could totally imagine Ganna Walska hosting performances or plays here. You're greeted into the garden by these small stone statues (which are kinda funny and creepy looking in my opinion) which Madame Walska brought with her from France. You can even buy replicas in the gift shop!
- The Tropical Garden: This was the first thing we saw when we entered the property and it took me by surprise. I was not ready for how beautiful the gardens would be and this one set the bar very high. You really feel like you are immersing yourself into a tropical garden! Look for the beautiful glass stones that line the path on the ground, which Madame Walska recycled from a glass factory!
- The Japanese Garden: I love this garden because it truly makes you realize how diverse the entire estate is. It is peaceful, unique, and filled with a variety of different species. A must-see!
I would recommend visiting Lotusland at any point in the year! There is always something in bloom or something changing in the gardens. We visited in the spring, which made for cooler weather and sunny skies. However, if you want to see the lotus flowers, book your reservation for a summer visit (or during LotusFest in July). Be sure to check the website beforehand to see if there are any fun events scheduled during your visit!
Good to Know Information
- Lotusland is completely sustainable and all-natural in the way that they conserve and maintain their gardens. There are absolutely no pesticides used anywhere; and they've even adopted natural preservation methods to attract positive pollinators, while deterring invasive species.
- Since Lotusland is tucked away in a private, residential area of Santa Barbara, reservations are required to enter. Tickets for admission are $45, but don't let this deter you; it is worth every penny. Call 805-969-9990 to schedule your reservation.
- Guided tours for your visit take place at 10am or 1:30pm every Wednesday-Saturday from mid-February to mid-November. You must schedule a tour if you are not a member.
- Annual memberships start at only $75 and it grants you free access (and other perks) whenever you make a reservation! Plus, your money goes right back into preserving this horticultural treasure. This is a great opportunity if you live in Central California and want to come visit often! (I would totally get this if I lived there or visit CA often...)
- Members also get exclusive invitations to private events hosted by Lotusland throughout the year.
- Lotusland is only permitted 15,000 guests per year due to community restrictions; so make sure you book your reservation ASAP by calling 805-969-9990.
- Bring sunblock and water if you are visiting on a warm day!
Ganna Walska Lotusland was a truly spectacular sight to see. I highly recommend making a stop here if you are in the Santa Barbara area, if only to escape into nature for a moment and smell the fresh air! Ahhhh :)
Ganna Walska Lotusland
695 Ashley Road
Santa Barbara, CA 93108
Thank you to Ganna Walska Lotusland for hosting our stay. And a special thank you to all of the incredible staff members who made our visit spectacular. All opinions are my own.