JAPANESE GARDEN REVIVED
Visitors can now walk under the Torii Gate and into Montecito’s latest piece of heaven.
Welcome to the renovated Japanese Garden at Ganna Walska Lotusland.
The $6 million project stayed true to the original design by Madame Ganna Walska and garden staff member Frank Fujii while adding amenities such as gathering spaces for tours and wider, wheelchair-accessible paths, spokesman Bob Craig told the News-Press.
“It’s been the largest project since we became a (public) botanic garden (in 1993),” Mr. Craig, director of marketing and communications, said as he gave the newspaper a tour around the 11/2-acre garden’s big pond, a small bamboo pond, waterfall and stream, and various paths.
The garden was created in the 1960s, he said.
“A lot of the changes were things she (Madame Walska) wanted to do, but never got around to or were in drawings from her archives or were things she and Frank Fujii had talked about,” he said.
Mr. Craig said Dorothy Fujii, Mr. Fujii’s widow, was the first person to enter the garden after its ribbon-cutting, VIP ceremony on June 13, which was followed a couple days later with its opening to the general public.
“When we were building the garden, it was a tough time in the recent history of Santa Barbara with the (Thomas) Fire and the debris flow,” said Mr. Craig, who noted boulders from the January 2018 mudslides have been incorporated as benches.
“People are so happy to be back in this space, which has always been so beloved,” he said. “They love the design, they love the feeling, they love the pathways.”
Scattered throughout the renovated area are 30 stone lanterns (ishi-doro), as well as stone frogs, turtles and Buddha that were in Madame Walska’s original Japanese Garden, Mr. Craig said.
A stone pagoda features five stories, which represent earth, water, fire, wind and sky.
Look carefully and you’ll spot a Shinto shrine, which was added in 1985.
The renovated garden’s design was done in conjunction with Lotusland CEO Gwen Stauffer, Derrik Eichelberger of Arcadia Studio and Paul Comstock of Comstock Landscape Architecture.
Mr. Craig said the work involved both landscaping — for example, the garden has 45 species of shrubs, 38 species of conifers and 13 varieties of ferns — and infrastructure improvements.
Mr. Craig pointed to a biofiltration system that will help to remove organic material from the big pond to prevent the water from being murky. He said the material will be put back into the garden to aid the plants.
As the pond reaches the proper alkaline level, koi will be reintroduced to it over the next few months, Mr. Craig said.
There’s a lot to see around the pond, and you can spot its aquatic lotus plants more easily because of a new deck that extends into the water. Look farther, and you’ll see Pine Island, featuring carefully pruned trees.
Mr. Craig gave more numbers about the garden: two varieties of palms, one cycad species, five types of bamboo, 30 kinds of herbaceous perennials, and six types of aquatic and bog plants.
Walk a short distance from the pond and you stand in a forest of Araucaria trees, which tower more than a hundred feet.
As he continued to walk, Mr. Craig showed how the garden has the layers of a painting.
“One of the interesting things in Japanese garden design is called ‘hide and reveal,’ ” Mr. Craig said as he stepped on a path behind trees, which parted enough to allow a view of the pond in the background.
“Through the trees, you can see how everything is thoughtfully placed to create these spaces that are very meditative, picturesque and thought-provoking,” Mr. Craig said.
The garden certainly has colors that a painter would love. They vary from the many shades of green to the purple of Japanese maples.
Mr. Craig said flowering cherries (Prunus serrulata cv. Shiifugen) will stand along the soon-to-be opened Spring Blossom Walk, a wheelchair-accessible path to a pavilion under construction.
Keep walking, and you’ll encounter the new Karesansui, or dry garden with patterns raked in the sand.
Also new is the Miwatasu, a new gathering area with an overlook of the garden.
Mr. Craig’s informal tour led to docent Linda Bednarski, who praised the garden for its tranquility and beautiful flowers. “I’m so glad to see the lanterns hidden throughout the garden.”
Elsewhere, docent Tom Morey spoke up to be heard over a waterfall in the new Cryptomeria Gathering space among the grove of Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica), a species with dramatic, curvy branches.
“This is my favorite spot,” Mr. Morey told the News-Press. “All the water is alive with movement and sound.”
IF YOU GO
Tours at Ganna Walska Lotusland in Montecito are at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. Reservations are required; call 969-9990. You will receive the address when you make the reservation.
Admission for the general public is $50 for adults and $25 for ages 3-17. There is no admission charge for children 2 and younger.
Lotusland members can walk for free through the garden unguided during business hours but still need a reservation.
For more information, go to www.lotusland.org.