Six Husbands & One Very Green Thumb

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Lotus LandSlim Paley Photo

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Inspired by the beauty of “Rose Story Farm” in my previous post,  I’m going to share yet another  Santa Barbara Garden Treasure with you;

Nestled in the foothills of Montecito,  embraced within high plaster walls the colour of rare salmon, sits Lotusland, home to one of the most famous exotic gardens in the world.

This 37 acre property, although originally dating back to 1882, really found it’s most ardent custodian in 1941 when, at the urging of her last husband, it was purchased by the rather infamous Madame Ganna Walska.

Lotusland proved to be THE True Love of Madame Walska’s life. She would remain there for the next 43 years, passionately obsessed with creating the beautiful gardens we still enjoy there today.


Lotus LandSlim Paley Photo

Large shards of bottle glass set the winding paths through the tropical gardens aglow

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Madame basking in the glory of her gardens

Born in Poland in 1887, Ganna Walska’s early years were spent as an aspiring actress and opera singer.  Ironically, despite the scandalously lavish efforts of her fourth husband to fan the flames of her musical career, Madame Walska’s reputation on the stage never scaled the heights she would achieve in the gardening world.  Whatever poor notices she may have received on stage though, she certainly made up for romantically. Ganna would eventually chalk up 6 husbands, divorcing #6 in 1946 after less than 4 years.

The Cast of Husbands;

Russian baron Arcadie d’Eingorn, a Russian officer (divorced him for drunkenness 1915)
Dr Joseph Fraenkel, a famed New York endocrinologist, died 1920,
multimillionaire sportsman and carpet tycoon Alexander Smith Cochran, married 1920, divorced 1922
industrialist Harold Fowler McCormick, married in 1922, divorced 1931
English inventor of a death ray, Harry Grindell Matthews, died 1941
Theos Bernard, her 6th and last husband, a scholar of yoga & Tibetan Buddhism, married 1942, divorced 1946

(list via Wikipedia)

Personally, I think you have to appreciate her range…going from “Death Ray Inventor” husband to Buddhist-yogi husband within a year!

I’d say those are pre-gardening hands


Lotus Land Slim Paley photo

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A very Young Ganna

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Lotus LandSlim Paley Photo

There was much talk back in the day that Madame Walska’s relationship with her husband  Harold McCormick  was in fact the inspiration behind the screenplay for “Citizen Kane”

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But whether or not Madame Walska possessed any true talents as a singer, her gift for creating spectacular gardens remains indisputable.

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Palm frondsSlim Paley Photo

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Lotus LandSlim Paley photo

The Cactus Gardens of Lotusland are particularly impressive

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Lotus LandSlim Paley photo

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flowering cactusSlim Paley photo

Cactus flowers resembling something from under the sea

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cactus flowersSlim Paley photo

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Madame Walska’s difficult to locate memoirs were entitled “Always Room At The Top”

No Shrinking Violet was our Ganna 🙂

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Slim Paley photo

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Lotus LandSlim Paley Photo

A Jurassic moment in the Cactus Gardens

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GreenSlim Paley photo

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Lotusland overflows with delightfully creative details

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Chanel resort 2010

A look I like to think the eccentric Madame would have worn in the gardens.

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A tranquil scene in the Japanese gardens

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Lotus Land, MontecitoSlim Paley photo

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Who needs jewelry when you can go into the garden and fetch a beautiful fresh lotus?!

Madame Walska made very few changes to the main residence during her lengthy reign at Lotusland, however she continued to indulge her passion for the gardens til the very end of her life, resorting to auctioning off her jewels to fund her beloved Cycad Garden as late as the 1970’s.

She remained the hands-on “Head Gardener” at Lotusland until her death at the age of 97.

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Happy CactusSlim Paley photo

Oh Dear…

So many husbands,

So many captions…

🙂

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For more information on visiting Lotusland please click here

PS. Due to both the fascinating history  of Lotusland and value of many of the specimens, guided tours and appointments are mandatory

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41 Comments

  1. The one day we visited Santa Barbara recently sadly was the day that the garden was closed. We will try again soon!

  2. I am a succulent junkie so this speaks to me. I love going to Lotus land and hearing her story. Beautiful photos too. thx Slim

  3. After having seen the “real thing”, not imported, in the Canary Island of Lanzarote, the garden seems, at least from your choice of things to photograph and from obviously historic pictures as well, a little grotesque. I don’t suppose all these plants are found in Montecito and the creator’s attempt to make them look arranged and beautiful kind of misses the point of such ancient and exotic plants. They look much better where they grow naturally, even if they are then replanted in representative gardens for everyone to admire and enjoy.

    • Dear Ciscogirl
      I can only imagine that these plants must look gorgeous in their indigenous surroundings, but for those of us that haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Lanzarote, or indeed may never have that experience, I think it’s wonderful that we can enjoy their exotic beauty in another, more easily accessible locale. It’s just one of the reasons that global importing, sharing and cultivating of “exotic” flora & fauna as a business and hobby has existed for centuries. In my own humble opinion, how boring would it be if we all just stayed where we were because that was where we were from?!

      • The few pictures that you have seen here offers only a very small glimpse of this “World class Garden” and yes all these plants and many more are found in Lotusland and beleive me there is nothing grotesque about this “Garden” that use to be over 50 acres and is now around 37 acres of All types of plants not just the ones found in “Lanzarote” Take it from me I was one of the very “Lucky” persons that use to live there in the early 70’s as a child and actually got to give “myself tours” on a few occasions so I can tell you that you have to visit this “Garden” to really appreciate all that it has to offer also there have been many articles or stories written about Madamme Ganna Walska and they mostly “paint” her as a “Diva” etc. but the real lady I knew gave me a ribbon wraped bicycle for christmas and sang to me on my birthday and gave me presents that’s the “real” Madamme Ganna Walska I knew!!

  4. What a wonderful post, wonderful pictures, SP!!!

    I’ll never get tired of your blog! 🙂 And after seeing constantly gorgeous pictures by you I’m thinking of buying a good camera to take pictures along the way too. You inspire me!

    Have a great day!!!

    Luciane at HomeBunch.com

    Post: Jennifer Aniston’s House for Sale.

  5. “Oh dear” is right, mercy me. I love cactus plants and would love to visit that garden. She really was quite beautiful when she was young but looks a bit eccentric in her older years.

  6. I am mad to visit Lotusland, and have been for years — since I first became aware of it. I hope to spend some time in CA this autumn, and hope to see it then. Great post, and what a laugh-out-loud photo you ended this essay with! Thank you. Reggie

  7. This so wonderful! I love that the passion she had for life translated into her gardens. It will be interesting to read her memoirs and how she came about doing this garden. Would love to see it one day, thank you for introducing me to Madame Ganna.

  8. You crack me up. Have to tell you, after I stumbled upon it I spent a week reading back through your blog. Love, love love your photos, sense of humor and style.

  9. Tis true Lady Eve, Madame could make one love a cactus. Great photos, and yes quite the beauty for sure. Yikes 6 Hubbys, plus all those other prickly things she liked. Eccentric is a very apt
    description of her (jealousy will get me nowhere )
    You sure keep us tuned in Slim thanks xo

  10. Ahhhhmazing! And that last photo…..Your sense of humor kills me every time!
    You need to write a daily column for some big publication…..keep up the good work Slim!

    • A group of us are visiting Santa Barbara around April 21st. Are there some special highlights you would recommend we visit. We have 5 days there. We are from the San Francisco Bay area.
      I would love your feedback.
      Regards,
      Marion

      Your blogs are amazing!

      • Dear Marion
        Besides Lotusland, Rose Story Farm & The Mission, I would book lunch or dinner at The San Ysidro Ranch and then stop by the concierge and ask their assistance- they are very nice and can give you hiking maps, and all sorts of great info they share with their guests.
        Hungry Cat, Arigato, Lucky’s, Olio et Limone & Cafe Luck are just a few of the good restaurants in town. If the weather is warm , you might be coming at just the right time to experience the orange blossoms in full bloom in Ojai.
        Lastly, sunset cocktails in the bar of the Biltmore is always a hit.

  11. She is definately on the “12 people I would love to dine with list” Plus – can we please bring back the tiara as a fashion accessory, because a headband is just not cutting it, and I don’t have many occassions where I am in the company of royalty (despite what several of my friends think of themselves).

  12. i never cared for cactus until i spent a week
    at a small B&B in phoenix at the hermosa inn.
    i was up early in the morning and took walks
    i took several amazing photos….
    i now like cactus very much.
    what you have shown is truly fantastic

  13. Pingback: Eye on NY | Slim Paley

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