For the mid-winter blahs, a dash of facial almond oil that’s been infused with calendula petals and rosemary. will soothe dry skin and lift your sprits. To make, I sit the jar in sunlight for several months and then use the concoction until the next season when a fresh batch is made. This can also be made with rose petals and lots of other flower essences as long as you know the source is organic. I grow my own so no worries there
Once, while watching a yoga CD, the instruction got lost by my attention being drawn to a giant yucca in the background. A garage sized yucca. Almost blue in color. Where was this? It turned out to be the blue garden at Lotusland, a 37 acre paradise in Santa Barbara, California (Montecito to be exact) and the dream of Ganna Walska, who spent forty years creating it until her death in 1984. It was a place I had to see.
Gardens, those that we create by hand, by our own sweat, inspiration and time, are expressions of love. Both love of the plants themselves, but also the personalities that combined, form a story, whether it’s seasonal (the two week wonders) or structural (like a japanese garden’s Niwaki pruning) or the mass meadows of Piet Oudolf’s “New Perennial” movement.
Ganna Walska’s world, originally of unfulfilled operatic ambition, though ardently pursued for decades, truly blossomed when she purchased the estate in 1941, encouraged by her sixth and final husband who envisioned a Tibetan monk retreat center. Never mind that he was a rogue and used the wealthy Walska’s money to line his own pockets, when they divorced (after suing and counter-suing each other) she threw herself into a relationship with the land.
Her previous marriages, starting with a Russian count before the Revolution, (she was born in 1887) fortuitously enhanced her financial well-being. As a result, she used her resources (finally selling her exquisite jewelry – at one point she had carte blanche at Paris’ Cartier atelier) to purchase large quantities, fully grown specimens, and expensive varieties for instant effect. Her cycad collection is world class and micro-chipped to prevent theft. With the guidance (although she was very difficult to guide) of excellent plantsmen, she created a collection of stunning “rooms,” distinct and dramatic.
Of the 3000 varieties of plants collected worldwide, they are not labeled, as “Madame” (as she is still referred to), wanted a pleasure garden, considering plant labels as distracting from the distinctly theatrical sets she created.
Deemed “enemy of the average” by the New York Times, over the top rather than average is very much at play in the use of giant clams for tiered fountains, abalone shells lining a pond, “grotesque” statues in her outdoor stage and the impact of mass plantings. When one arrives at the rose garden, it seems rather staid and straight-laced compared with the exuberance of everything else.
Brian Adams has written a fine, well researched biography, Ganna, Diva of Lotusland, that provides insight into an ambitious Polish girl determined to live a life dedicated to art.
While she never became the international operatic superstar to which she aspired, after her first fifty years spent in high society, the last decades established her legacy and legend through nature’s inspiration.
My take away: Whatever the scale or purse strings, create the garden of your dreams. Think long term. Enjoy the art of it.
Visiting Lotusland is by reservation only.
A new rock musical will premiere at the New York City’s Public Theatre on 14 February 2017. “In the Fire” is set twenty years after Joan of Arc was burned at the stake as a heretic. Her mother is determined to clear her name. My novel “Playing with Fire” is still looking for a publisher. Hope springs eternal.
I can’t wait to see this show.
Here are a few links:
Pops, my maternal grandfather emigrated from Banff, Scotland shortly after WWI to America with his family. He had lost two brothers in France during the war, and he, himself, had volunteered at fourteen years old. After a stay in Canada and then Detroit, he ended up in Cleveland, Ohio. His brothers and sisters stayed in Detroit and his mother in Canada. I often heard him tell stories of his North Sea town where all his people were fishermen. This summer I visited Banff and found his home, and that of my great great grandfather, in nearby Portknockie. So today, as the polls are closing in Scotland on the historic vote for their independence, I salute my ancestors, the Cormacks, who fought in the wars and fished the seas, who left their homeland to find a better life in America.
Eldorado is a small community about 7 miles outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. It is a covenant based residential area and for the last two years the question of whether chickens are pets (not designated in the covenants) has caused feathers to fly. Yesterday, a judge ruled that in Eldorado, at least, chickens do not qualify as pets. The community has spent over $55,000 on the lawsuit (brought on by pro-chicken advocates) and now may face an appeal. The chicken owners have spent $22,000 on their case. It’s sad really that it couldn’t have been mediated more sensibly. If we can’t resolve neighborly issues like these, how do we hope to truly attain world peace?
Spring’s pilgrimage to Cactus League baseball denies all the injustices of boys playing a field game for millions of dollars while charging adoring fans $9 for a cup of beer. Despite the inequity, we continue to trek to sun spotted parks with pristine outfields, manicured tracks and a slow game of strategy and skill, athleticism and even danger. We witnessed All-Star Cinci Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman getting hit by a line drive after throwing a 99 mph speedball against the Kansas City Royals catcher, Salvador Perez . Chapman will be out for two months. The game was called. Royals won. We saw the Indians win a slug fest against the SF Giants and then the Royals lose to the Angels. Check out your local AAA ball and the college circuit. The stadiums are small, the game is good and the beer is cheaper.
Dominica calls itself the Nature Island. And so it should. There are miles of hiking trails, national parks to preserve the luscious waterfalls and rivers, the pristine rain forests and rushing rivers.
Because of the elevations, rain comes and goes with frequency. Dominica is unique among the islands. It has recognized its natural heritage and now celebrates it. If you go there, I recommend taking the local transport which originates at various places. You’ll have to find it via the locals. It’s reliable, economical and somewhat energizing as the road are hair-raising up and down hair pin turns on cliffs to the sea. I’ll admit, Dominica is not a typical beach island, but it is well worth the visit.
It’s the little Caribbean island you’ve never heard of because Dominica is relatively untouched by tourism. At 250 square miles, with elevations that reach 4700 feet, it is a tropic rainforest with 300 rivers, crystal clear pools, snorkeling, winding roads along the coastline with breathtaking views and a national hiking trail that spans the island. Unique and friendly (English is the national language) it’s easy to navigate via local vans (once you get the hang of it). It’s not famous for beaches, there are no large hotels. Rum punch is potent. That said, the ubiquitous touring cities stop at the port of Roseau, the capital, and off-load folks who bolster the local economy. They are gone by 4pm. More in the next post about the Nature Island, as they called themselves, but for now, colors accent an already gorgeous palate.
George reluctantly came to the military and political table. He viewed himself first and foremost, a farmer. “Nothing in my opinion would contribute more to the welfare of these States, than the proper management of our Lands,” he declared as he noted soil depletion from heavy tobacco planting. An ardent composter, according to Andrea Wulf’s Founding Gardeners, an outstanding account of our agricultural/horticultural heritage, Washington “was obsessed with manure and the improvement of the soil.” A man after my own heart. I visited Mount Vernon several years ago. Built on the backs of slaves, it remains a moving testament to the conflicts that gave birth to aristocratic rebellion against the British and then less than one hundred years later, a civil war. Happy Birthday George.