Visit to Lotusland, part 5: Cactus Garden


Just before closing at Santa Barbara’s Lotusland, we explored the Cactus Garden, which I found even more fascinating than I expected. Despite what outsiders may imagine my home state of Texas to be like, this isn’t it. Tall, columnar cactus like these, for example, are largely unknown in central Texas. As the late afternoon light shone through their spines, these somehow humanoid plants wore full-length halos.


Lotusland founder Madame Ganna Walska never saw this garden, at least not in this incarnation. The plants were donated in 1999, several years after her death, by her old friend and cactus collector Merritt Dunlap. More than 500 plants and more than 300 species make up the Cactus Garden, which opened in 2004.


Cacti are perhaps the most otherworldly of all plants. Their architectural shapes look fantastic paired with flowering perennials and loose grasses, as you’d likely find them in nature. But here they have only each other for company, and the result is quite surreal. For one thing, they have such textural “skin,” often with glowing spines.


The slender bodies of some stretch toward the sky.


Others creep along the ground, like snakes or leggy, green tarantulas. Check out those frivolous, lipstick-shaped flowers.


Pincushion-like spines, as long as darning needles, cradle starry, jewel-like flowers on some plants.


Chips of shale mulch the cactus planting beds and match the gray gravel paths that wind through the garden.


I just can’t help anthropomorphizing these slender, erect plants, even those in bloom. These all seem to be looking at something to the left.


Gorgeous flowers on such rugged, prickly plants! Do you think these open in the evening? I wasn’t sure why they were closed well before day’s end.


Many gardeners chase after blue flowers, but how about the baby-blue “skin” of these columnar cactus? I absolutely loved the chalky blue of these plants.


A mounded viewing terrace in the center of the garden offers dramatic, 360-degree views of the Cactus Garden. Here’s just one view from the terrace.


I think Madame would have approved of this garden. Like her others, it relies on massing of species for effect and it certainly contains many oddities of the plant kingdom.


And the stunning flowers of summer add the perfect finishing touch.

I hope you enjoyed my Lotusland series. For a look back at the rear terrace, parterre & lemon arbor, click here. A note about visiting. The garden is open only Wednesdays through Saturdays, and you must have an advance reservation for a docent-led tour. Adult admission is $35. I recommend becoming a Lotusland member, which allows you to visit for free and take self-guided tours of the garden. Membership is $75 for individuals and $125 for a family membership — about the same price as two visits.

One more thing. If Lotusland interests you, I urge you to read Gerhard Bock’s Lotusland series (5 posts in all) at his blog, Bamboo, Succulents and More. Gerhard visited in April 2013, and his wonderfully informative and beautifully photographed posts added fuel to my desire to visit.

All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

7 Responses

  1. This has been a great tour. Lotusland looks like a fascinating place to visit.

    Thanks again, for taking us along.

    My pleasure, Linda. Thanks for joining me! —Pam

  2. Brenda says:

    Have so enjoyed this Lotusland series!

    Your comments about people’s perception of Texas is spot on. Texas has such a rich biodiversity. Only some areas are desert (Big Bend0 and they are very different from other parts of the Southwest.

    The Big Thicket and East Texas are absolutely not desert.

    And yet isn’t it funny how people who’ve never been to Texas imagine it to be all tumbleweeds and cowboys riding across the desert plains? :-) —Pam

  3. Thank you so much for your lotusland series – so much inspiration and enjoyment! Loved every second!

    Thanks, Heather. I’m glad you enjoyed it! —Pam

  4. Laura says:

    Thanks for sharing your tour with us. What an amazing garden! If I’m ever in Santa Barbara, I’ll have to stop. Or maybe … I ‘ll have to just plan a trip to SB to see this garden.

    Oh, yes, plan a special trip to see it, Laura, and that way you can be sure to get in on a tour. I’ll be posting about Santa Barbara Botanic Garden next — another good reason to go. —Pam

  5. Thanks for your pictures of Lotusland. I haven’t been there in several years. I clearly need to get up that way again.

    So do I, Kris! I didn’t get to see everything and am already making a list of what I missed. —Pam

  6. Gerhard Bock says:

    You got to see quite a few cacti in bloom! I love those echinopsis flowers!

    The cacti were very much in bloom, Gerhard. It was a treat to see all those beautiful flowers. —Pam

  7. commonweeder says:

    One of my most treasured memories of a trip to California (near Palm Desert) was a hike in the desert after a rain. Blooms everywhere.

    That sounds lovely. It’s a blessing to have such memories stored away. —Pam

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