Thursday, May 27, 2010

journey: madame ganna walska's exotic dream garden

Before moving to California, I remember visiting. I remember trips to Hearst Castle with my mother, my aunt and their parents. I was in training to become a fan of aristocratic histories -their visual wonders, historic homes and trashy gossip. Of course Hearst Castle is visited by thousands of tourists each year, and after years of visiting ourselves it was time to explore the stories of another house.

Born in 1887 in Brest-Listvosk, Poland - Madame Ganna Walska was well-known and worldly. Though she was a well-known actress and opera singer, her fortunes were gathered from a series of high profile marriages that spanned nations and industries. Her sixth and final marriage was to a man by the name of Theos Casimir Bernard - an accomplished American practitioner of Yoga and Tibetan Buddhism (in fact he spearheaded the department of Indian and Tibetan Studies that still exists at Columbia University). In 1941 - at Bernard's encouragement - Walska purchased a 37 acre property known as the Cuesta Linda Estate in Santa Barabara, CA. She intended to turn it into a retreat for Tibetan monks and to call her house "Tibetland." The monks never seemed to make it to Santa Barbara, and after divorcing Bernard, Madame Ganna Walska changed the name of the estate to "Lotusland," in homage to a rare type of Lotus plant that was blooming in one of the property's ponds. Lotusland has since been preserved as a botanical garden.

photos by jordan robin

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