There's this place in Santa Barbara called Lotusland. It was the brainchild of a somewhat eccentric former opera singer named Ganna Walska who went through six husbands and had very little self-control when it came to plants. She was born poor and at the age of nineteen she eloped with a Russian count. Here is a picture of her I found on the internet.
Apparently Ganna Walska was a terrible singer, but her fourth husband, who was chairman of International Harvester, and who once had an animal-gland transplant in the belief that it would fortify his masculinity (and whose first wife, Edith Rockefeller, believed she had been married to King Tutankhamen in a previous life), threw a ton of money into voice lessons and bankrolled lavish opera productions for her to star in. Orson Welles said he used Ganna Walska as the inspiration for the Susan Alexander character in Citizen Kane. I mean, just look at her.
Ganna Walska bought the Lotusland property in 1941. The guide who led the tour I went on described Walska as somewhat of a hoarder, but her hoarding tendencies veered away from stacks of newspapers and used sponges in rinsed-out Ziploc bags and more in the direction of roughly 3,000 kinds of crazy, crazy plants. She knew what it was like to be poor and she knew what it was like to be rich and she sold her jewelry and her clothes and her Faberge egg so she could buy more plants for Lotusland.
Cactuses for example. Good lord, she had a lot of cactuses. That's not even the half of it. I didn't notice it until now but those yellowish guys in front look like they have faces on their tops, like happy cartoon penises. Well, now I can't unsee that. Enjoy.
This one lacks the infrastructure to stand on its own, but as with many things that become the object of someone's unbridled affection, it will be propped up until it begs for death.
I once knew a professional feng shui practitioner who told me never to put poky, spiky plants around my front door unless I wanted to uninvite people inside. Ganna Walska's entire driveway is bordered with cactuses, so from that we might conclude that you didn't want to roll up to Ganna's house when you were drunk.
Gah, more cactuses. These are weeping Euphorbia ingens, an African plant with poisonous sap. If you're going to cut these down you need to build a wall of fire around them to "set" the sap so it doesn't eat you alive if you touch it. Fun!
Here's some Dutch tile for you to look at while you frantically scrape all that caustic African sap off your hands.
Dracaena draco, or the Dragon tree, another African import. It's sap is red and is known as "dragon's blood" and it's very thick and useful if you want to mummify someone. The fruit of the Dragon tree was the favorite food of the dodo bird, but once dodos went extinct there were no other birds to poop out Dragon tree seeds, and so now Dragon trees are endangered, because that's how nature works.
These chunks of green glass were everywhere. They are actually slag left over from glass manufacturing. Ganna Walska used to get truckloads of them from the factory where they made the bottles for Arrowhead water. Now Arrowhead comes in plastic bottles, and also California is in a drought and I am going to write a letter to our dear governor Jerry Brown so he will tell Arrowhead to quit pumping water out of our aquifers and selling it to the rest of the country. Tap water, people! Get one of those Britta jugs and quit dehydrating us. Also, I have magenta shoes.
I will never not love looking at topiary. It makes so little sense.
Somebody gave this one a laser eyeball! Run!
Dinosaur topiary is among the best topiary, even if it lacks eyes that shoot lasers.
This is a terrible picture but those are Julia Child roses. She let them name this rose after her because its yellow was the same color as a perfect egg yolk. And also butter. Julia Child lived out the end of her life in a nursing home just down the street from Lotusland. Butter, eggs, caustic sap: the circle of life.
Another thing Ganna Walska collected? Rocks, of course. "I want to make a display for all my rocks," I imagine her telling the gardeners one morning as she stood on the patio outside her bedroom wearing a sheer white negligee and an ostrich-feather hat. And then some devoted employee of hers tumbled all her rocks so they'd be the same size and she could fiddle with them until they turned out like this.
"I need some of your divine hand-painted tiles!" she said over the telephone to a man in Spain. She had to shout because long-distance connections were terrible back then. "There's a little skirmish near here," he replied, holding a phone to his ear with one hand and beating back fascists with the other, "but I'll get them to you as soon as I can."
"We have some Dracula-themed tiles," he went on. "I can't seem to give them away. Do you want those, too?"
"They're horrible," she said. "Send me everything you have."
Mer-men! Put your tridents in the air like you just don't care.
This guy. Look at that face. He was standing in a little outdoor amphitheater area getting worn away by time and the elements and I couldn't get enough of those eyes. All the little statues in this area were so-called "grotesques." But this one I wanted to take home and prop up his little feet and make him a hearty stew and let Peewee snore in his lap. I think he deserves it, he's done enough.
Then the one in the bonnet was all, "Wait, why can't we come, too?" But the little egg-headed guy was like, "You can't take me, I have a clever little stone wig!" I don't know what happened to his arm but at least it was a clean break.
Part of the property has a "blue" garden where all the plants have a blue tinge to them, which is really just a coating you can scrape off with your thumbnail that protects the plant from the sun. Someone put some giant cut-out crows in the area. There was a bird-art exhibit back in the main house. It was actually quite good but I don't want to talk about it, this post is too long and I need a snack.
We will remember Ganna Walska as she was, busy pillaging the South Seas for its giant clam shells and making hideous yet somehow elegant fountains out of them while her last and much-younger-than-her husband, an early American proponent of yoga and Tibetan Buddhism, lay dead somewhere in Pakistan, his body never to be recovered. Here's a picture of him that I found on the internet.
Lotusland.org if you want more information. This post was not sponsored, I just felt like writing it.