Ganna Walska Lotusland
Innovative water feature restoration preserves a historical landmark
Ganna Walska Lotusland was at one time the private residence of Madame Ganna Walska, an opera singer born in Poland in 1887. Over many years, Madame Walska created an intricate botanical wonderland at her Montecito, California home – a beloved site that is toured by the public with the guidance of trained docents to this day.
OTL was brought on board to restore and reimagine several water features at the historical garden. The team worked closely with project architects and the Lotusland staff to deliver an updated cascading waterfall, pavilion stream, bamboo pond, Japanese garden, and koi pond filled with dazzling exotic fish while preserving Madame Walska’s legacy and original vision for the site.
The reimagination of Lotusland is a study in perseverance and overcoming challenges.
The project’s construction timeline was protracted due to natural disasters including a flash flood and long-burning wildfire. OTL was quick and flexible in its response to these emergencies; the team was able to successfully reconfigure the timeline to compensate for delays and deliver the project as close to the original deadline as possible.
In addition, the development team with which OTL worked—including conceptual landscape architectural firm Comstock L.A., landscape architect of record Arcadia Studio, and the Lotusland staff—faced several challenges related to the property’s age including a lack of original design drawings, which would have provided historical data and parameters to aid in planning the restoration.
For example, while implementing the restoration, the team discovered that one of the original ponds was filled with much more sediment than had been anticipated, which meant that more material had to be excavated and exported from the jobsite. The sediment clouded the water and obstructed the view of the colorful koi fish. OTL was able to update the water feature with a new mechanical filtration system and biological filtration system, successfully clearing the water for good and enabling visitors to see the beautiful fish swimming through the ponds. The team also used state-of-the-art ultraviolet sterilization and a commercial protein skimmer to help ensure the health of the prized koi.
An overarching challenge was updating the aging water features while staying within building permit guidelines and maintaining historical preservation standards, which included the protection of all existing trees and their expansive root structures. The original waterfall, built by Ozzie Da Ros, featured natural rocks and boulders that created a beautiful and unique cascade. To maintain that historic charm, OTL used washable markers, careful documentation, and a 200-ton crane to lift the boulders out while marking their exact locations. With the rocks removed, OTL installed a new liner system to waterproof the waterfall, as well as new plumbing for a larger water source, and carefully placed each boulder back into its precise previous location – delivering an exact match to the original.
To remain within the noise parameters that residential zoning required, OTL made sure the team kept the noise levels down during the construction process.
Another challenge involved the installation of a massive underground equipment vault at the site; this hub would enable a more seamless operation for the water features, yet needed to be constructed in a way that was not visible to guests. OTL identified an area to install the vault so that it would be largely hidden from view, yet easily accessible by staff, simplifying long-term maintenance for the water features.
The team also installed a series of walkways to the garden that allows the public even closer access to the breathtaking water features.
Through talented craftsmanship, innovative solutions, meticulous care and strong expertise, OTL was ultimately able to help manifest the vision of Lotusland’s current owner and design team.
The project refreshed the historic botanical garden while enhancing its beauty and functionality, and was touted by the Los Angeles Times as one of the must-see gardens of the world.
Moreover the Montecito community in Santa Barbara County, which is visited by more than 7.2 million people per year, now has a revitalized landmark to enjoy, extending Madame Walska’s legacy well into the future.