Ganna Walska Lotusland is the recipient of the Santa Barbara Mayor’s Award for Design and Accessibility for inclusive docent training and creativity in providing access to the garden.
Gwen Stauffer, executive director, and Dorothy Shaner, director of public programs, accepted the award.
Ganna Walska Lotusland strives to provide access to a diverse population and enhance the community’s ability to experience this valuable horticultural resource, despite the fact that Lotusland must operate under a Santa Barbara County conditional use permit that severely restricts the number of visitors to 20,000 people annually.
Of that, Lotusland has dedicated 5,000 slots to school children in kindergarten through 12th grade, providing education programs at no cost to the students and the schools in Santa Barbara County. This includes its acclaimed Fourth-Grade Outreach Program that serves all fourth-grade classes, including Title One schools, for free, in Santa Barbara, Goleta and Carpenteria.
Lotusland also teams with Santa Barbara nonprofits to host free educational opportunities for children and underserved populations, and to provide free tours targeted specifically for community populations that otherwise would not be able to visit Lotusland because of their disabilities or income bracket. Of the county’s 20,000 visitor’s limit, Lotusland gives back to the community — for free — 6,000 to 7,000, or 30 to 35 percent, of the available slots every year.
Lotusland has purposefully modified parts of the historic gardens to provide accessibility for anyone with a disability, and ensures a fulfilling experience for every visitor by conducting a rigorous docent training program that includes instruction for guiding family tours, people in wheelchairs, and those who may be slow-moving or vision impaired.
Lotusland is one of the few remaining examples of great American estates built in Santa Barbara during the Golden Age, and only one of two that is still intact and open to the public. It was created by some of the most influential taste-makers in Southern California’s estate building and garden design professions.
As a private estate with narrow, winding paths for strolling by a few houseguests — but now a public garden — we have made modifications and created ways for every citizen to enjoy the garden, no matter their condition, without compromising the critical historic and aesthetic integrity of the garden.
Lotusland is committed to sharing this very important and historic garden to as many people as we can, we are grateful for all our collaborators who helped us build our programs, and we are honored by this award.
“We have worked to create access points so as many people as possible can experience the garden, not only as a source for inspiration, but an opportunity for learning,” Stauffer said.
— Bob Craig is the director of marketing and communications for Ganna Walska Lotusland.