I recently introduced you to Madame Ganna Walska and Lotusland, the dream garden she created in California. As I've been thinking about my 2013 garden plans and resolutions, I keep coming back to my virtual visit to Lotusland and how this might be influencing some of my design decisions this year.
I knew I was intrigued by this garden's history and stature the moment I started reading about it. Because I'm a good student (and too far away to justify a quick jaunt to the garden itself), further web exploration was necessary. I found a quite impressive photo tour via Janel Holiday and was transported even deeper into Walska's garden. It really got me thinking more about Madame Walska's unique gardening style, how relevant it is today and how it might just be influencing my own garden this year.
1) Gardenalia - Walska was the queen of strategically placing unusual and rare objects throughout her garden for an instant wow-factor. I already love incorporating gardenalia in my garden, and I definitely prefer salvaging an antique or vintage find over a run-of-the-mill, store bought garden accessory. It might be the aged patina of a copper container or a moss-covered concrete orb — first and foremost our gardenalia should breathe new life and personality into our space. Walska's pool bordered with abalone shells, along with a fountain made of clam shells, is a shining example. I've been saving clam and oyster shells to be used in my garden for years and now that my collection has grown quite large, I might try to incorporate them into a small-scale water feature inspired by hers.
2) Form - Unlike the majority of gardeners during Walska's time, she much preferred form over the more traditional gardens that focused on color. When I first started my garden, which began as a blank rectangular slab of dirt, I made the mistake of just wanting pretty flowers. While flowers are a lovely addition to any garden, my experience over the years has taught me that often one larger purchase of a tree or shrub can have a more dramatic impact than spending the same amount on a few flowering annuals. I have two oversized containers that have stood empty for years. This season I will be looking at filling them with two trees with a striking form, perhaps geometric topiaries like the ones seen near Walska's fern garden.
3) Mass Plantings - One of the biggest contributions Walska made to the gardening design world was her exploration into mass plantings. Mass plantings are nothing more than planting the same species together, but layered in large numbers — something that was a new approach in garden design at the time. These days, this is seen all over in large gardens, but many small space gardeners avoid this approach due to limited space. I too have fallen prey to avoiding mass plantings, wanting to instead amass a garden filled with variety. But who says you can't have both? Even in small space gardens, mass plantings can add interest as a striking focal point or in the form of borders or backdrops.
4) Rare and Unique Plants - Walska amassed quite an impressive collection of rare and exotic plants from all over the world. It was said that she was so inspired by seeking out such plants that she would drive around in search of them. If she spotted a rare specimen, she would send her driver to the door to make an offer. I like plants that can tell a story. Maybe it's in my genetics — my grandmother can tell you about boxwoods she rooted from a president's garden or some other plant's backstory that's just as interesting. I like to try and add a couple rare or unique plants or trees to my garden each year.
5) Succulents and Cacti - Since Walska was so infatuated with a specimen's form, it should be no surprise that she was quite intrigued by succulents and cacti. I too (like much of the population) love these guys and have been incorporating them into my garden in as many ways as possible for years. Lotusland has some gorgeous, overflowing succulent container gardens, but it's Walska's hanging sedum pots that have my brain turning. By adding protective mesh caps, she turned a simple hanging basket into floating, jellyfish-esque living sculptures.
For many more beautiful images of Lotusland, check out Janel Holiday's blog.
(Images: Janel Holiday Interior Design)