'Not your average backyard gardener' | Science | Smithsonian

'Not your average backyard gardener'

Ganna Walska pursued life with a passion, from husbands to opera to plants. Her legacy is Lotusland, an exotic California garden

Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

There is nothing ordinary about Ganna Walska Lotusland, the 37-acre botanical wonderland sprawled across a hillside in Montecito, California. But then the flamboyant, sometime opera singer who created it called herself "an enemy of the average." Born Hanna Puacz, possibly in 1887 (her many passports listed two different dates), in czarist-ruled Poland, she moved to St. Petersburg, changed her name to Ganna Walska and took up opera to attract the attention of "the second richest man in Russia," according to her not always credible autobiography.

He became the first of six husbands whom she profitably married and divorced, amassing a fortune along the way.

Husband number six persuaded Madame Walska to buy the California property, and after their divorce, she threw herself into transforming it into a botanical wonderland. Succulent trees, cacti of all sizes and varieties, palms and bromeliads are in abundance. Every project was approached with passion — the aloe garden with its pool rimmed with abalone shells; the blue garden with walkways bordered by blue glass from a bottling plant scrap heap; the water garden with its lotus pond. But the showpiece is a world-class collection of cycads, primitive plants that date from the days of the dinosaurs and reproduce via cones. Madame Walska was famous in her day for her great beauty. Now she is famous for her garden.

Tours of Lotusland are available by reservation only. For more information, please call: 805-969-3767.

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus