Good day. My name is Madame Ganna Walska and I am pleased to welcome you here to Lotusland. I hope you found your way without trouble – these Montecito hills can be confusing to visitors. And I know you are a great lover of plants, so I trust you will find much to delight your eyes.
Ah, you wish to know about me? Well, I was born in Poland in 1887 – my name then was Hanna Puacz, I hadn’t yet taken my stage name, which means “waltz” in Russian. And I’ve had..…well let’s just say I’ve had a rather colourful life. I eloped with a Russian count when I was a teenager, and I was just nineteen when the Czar himself selected me to have my portrait painted as the most beautiful woman at the royal ball.
But I grew tired of the Count and moved to France. It was a wonderful time to be in Paris, la Belle Époque. But then war broke out, and in 1915 I moved to New York and became a singer. I made my concert debut three years later – Enrico Caruso was on the same bill! My second husband, a doctor whom I met when he treated my sore throat, died just four years after our marriage. I was overcome with grief. But then on a ship to Paris I met my third husband. Sadly, it wasn’t a happy marriage and in 1922 I divorced him. I married my fourth husband in Paris. He was a very wealthy industrialist; some say the inspiration for the film ‘Citizen Kane’. And very generous – he bought me the Theâtre des Champs Elyseés in order to pursue my opera career. I made three concert tours to America over the next six years, but the reviews for my singing were not always favourable. I preferred to live in Paris and my husband, who lived in Chicago, sued me for divorce, claiming desertion. But I found comfort in my spiritual studies, in mysticism and astrology and Indian philosophy.
In 1937 I married again, but it wasn’t a happy marriage; he was egotistical and jealous. When the war broke out, I was able to escape France on the last ship before the Germans occupied Paris. Before leaving, I managed to bury the little grotesques, those statues you see in the Theatre Garden, in my French estate. That saved them.
It was my yoga master Theos Bernard – they called him the White Lama – who encouraged me in 1941 to buy this estate. It was called La Cueste then, and there was already a beautiful garden on its 37 acres. I renamed it Tibetland in honour of the monks we hoped to bring here on retreat. Alas, they never came. We married in Las Vegas, Theos and I, but I made him sign a prenuptial agreement to protect my wealth. When we divorced in 1946, I changed the name to Lotusland after the beautiful sacred Indian lotus.
It gave me such pleasure to indulge my gardening passion in these lush California hills. I had good help, of course, and able assistance from landscape architects and designers, including Lockwood de Forest, Jr., Ralph T. Stevens, William Paylen, Oswald Da Ros, and Charles Glass. They helped me assemble my plant collections. My bromeliads are world-renowned.
My cacti are wonderful of course; they come from all over the world.
Before you leave, take a moment to sit on the terrace and enjoy the view.
I’m sorry the lotuses aren’t in bloom; it’s too early in the season. I always loved the pink ones. Au revoir. Enchanté.
(A conversation imagined with Ganna Walska, based on Lotusland’s history. Reservations must be made to visit Lotusland. Visit their website http://www.lotusland.org/ for more information.)