Loving Lotusland, a Garden (and a Gardener) Like No Other

Anybody with the stamina and dare I say the optimism to marry six times is nothing if not energetic. Ganna Walksa was certainly that–and a visionary as well. Her beauty was legend, her voice sublime, her past a touch scandalous, and her portrait a gift from the czar of Russia. But her most fabulous legacy is Lotusland. Prepare to swoon.

Lotusland – Lotus

I had looked forward to this outing in Montecito, California, for weeks, instigated by lovely new friend and fellow blogger Cynthia Spivey together with another fab friend and fellow blogger Hollye Jacobs. We even let our husbands come.

After hours, just us, very special. Cynthia is a former board member, which has its perks.

Lotusland – Lotus Pond

You know it’s going to be a good evening when–before you even see the garden–you walk onto a porch where awaiting you are these hors d’oeuvres next to a chilling magnum of rosΓ©, whipped up by hostess Cynthia who also this summer began whipping up a delicious recipe-slash-memoir blog called The Water Is Smiling, which you will love.

You may be noticing about now that these photos are filtered, magically transforming them from mediocre to mildly interesting. After spending a good long while and $9.99 on the photo filter app Analog, I proceeded to process every one of these on Camera Plus. Just don’t even ask.

As I mentioned, Hollye Jacobs of The Silver Pen was also along. Her wonderful blog makes my day. Hollye has a camera the size of a station wagon and takes amazing, very professional photos. I get insecure just thinking about it.

Lotusland – Agaves in bloom

I have a camera the size of an iPhone.

Hence, the filters. A gimmick. Oh, woe. Sooner or later one is exposed for the mediocre photographer one is, but humor her.

The aloe garden with its pool and giant clam shell fountain is enchanting and extraordinary at once. The border is encrusted with abalone shells.

Pool and fountain in the aloe garden.

Lotusland is especially acclaimed for its cycads, some of which are extinct in the wild and therefore highly collectible. Theft is a serious concern. Seriously.

Have you ever wondered that the more you learn about plants the more you learn about crazy people?

But okay, cycads are prehistoric. Dinosaur hors d’oeuvres (because Cynthia wasn’t around then). They look like palms but aren’t. Palms produce flowers and set seeds, often covered in a fruity layer, like dates or coconuts. Cycads are way older than palms and have cones that produce seeds sans coating.

There is a bee inside this one. If it were taken with Hollye’s camera you could see the bee’s knees.

Lotusland – Cactus with bee

And here, ladies and gentlemen, is one heck of a heliconia.

Lotusland – heliconia

Would you believe there is a Heliconia Society International? Who joins it, you might ask.  But when you see plants like this you understand. This thing should have its own zip code. Gwen said it blooms like this about once every 20 years, but when it goes, baby, it goes–for five or six months.

Here it is closer up.

Lotusland – heliconia

Good night puti fountain. I love puti.

Lotusland – Puti fountain

Good night, cacti.

Lotusland – House and cactus

Go to Lotusland when you can, as I have barely skimmed the surface here. And meanwhile treat yourself to its (and Madame Walska’s!) fascinating history, here. And here is a terrific article on The Many Husbands of Ganna Walska,on LuxeEcoLiving.com.

Thank you wonderful Spiveys, Jacobses, and Gwen.

Oh–and this just in fro a thoughtful and energetic, garden-loving reader and writer, who asked me to share the link to his wonderful “55 Botanic Gardens To See Before You Die,” and I am happy to do so.



  1. My heart skipped a beat, just beautiful, Frances.
    Just visited the topiary at Atlanta Botanical Gardens. It rivals Harvey Ladew’s and Longwood Gardens. Not to be missed. Took your niece and Joey and they gave it their full attention..for all ages!

  2. It was easily my most favorite field trip with the fourth graders. PB&J’s though, and damn forgot the rose’ in my thermos. Wish I had your entertaining company, and swoon inducing photos, seriously though what a treasure right? Loved the abalone shells around the “moon” pool. I think the cycads had a headache during my visit. Thanks for this, enjoyed entirely. Xo P

  3. You are a genius with words AND photos Frances! The Aloe Garden and Clamshell Fountain photo is stunning. Ganna would have been proud. As am I, to be called out by you as a fellow blogger! Here’s to more beautiful adventures πŸ™‚ xo C.

  4. Hi Frances,
    I’ve been enjoying your blog and loved your photos. Don’t underrate yourself! Also wanted to share a little story, I lived in Miami a few years back and volunteered at Fairchild Tropical Gardens. They also have quite the cycad collection. A hurricane was set to roll trough and the garden closed for the storm. An industrious thief had been waiting for just that opportunity and removed several of the rarest cycads. People are truly crazy about their collections.
    Thanks and keep up the great blog!


    1. Thank you for your kind words, Caroline, and and for this harrowing horticultural tale! I love your ExtravagantGardens.com and just subscribed! Kudos, Frances

  5. Love the photos of the garden but also love the old ‘Kodachrome’ feel the filter gave to the pictures. Reminded me of the 1960’s and of my dad, who was an amateur but prolific and talented photographer.

  6. Hello Frances!

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful day. The lemon allee is is particularly inspiring for me at the moment.

    I adore Hollye and her fantastic blog. I’ve learned so much from her posts, and her Friday’s fixin’s are very popular at our house πŸ™‚
    I will have to pop over to Cynthia’s blog. Thank you for the introduction!


    1. Brooke, how lovely to hear from you, and how I have loved following the progress of your beautiful Patina Farm at Velvet & Linen. Thank you, and I won’t be surprised to see a lemon allee sprouting at PF… Readers, trust me and treat yourself to this California designer’s gorgeous blog at brookegiannetti.typepad.com/β€Ž.
      xox Frances

    2. Hello Brooke via Frances! Love Velvet & Linen…your photos are inspiring. If you would like to see the lemon allee in person, don’t hesitate to contact me. I am lucky enough to live just a mile away from the fabulous Lotusland:) xo Cynthia

  7. It’s fabulous how you use your phone to take so many lovely pictures! Isn’t it great to have something so handy for capturing life’s adventures as they happen? I’d never heard of a cycad, so the photos were interesting and captions had me laughing!

    Thanks for living life with a sense of humor, and for educating and entertaining us with your wonderful blogs.

    1. Thank you, Donna, for your kind words. It was a kinda long post which I know puts some people off (including me sometimes), so I am really appreciative of you dedicated readers! And I will keep these long posts to a minimum, I promise. Sometimes I just get carried away. πŸ™‚ xo Frances

  8. What magic, Frances. Did you feel like Alice having just stumbled into Wonderland? It showed in your beautiful commentary. Thanks for the tour – I enjoyed every drop of it.

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