Event Cochair and Trustee Belle Hahn Cohen, Honorary Chair Jennifer Smith Hale, and Event Cochair Rachel Wryan

Gail Arnold

Event Cochair and Trustee Belle Hahn Cohen, Honorary Chair Jennifer Smith Hale, and Event Cochair Rachel Wryan

Lotusland Celebrates Valentino Style

Annual Fundraiser Features Fashions in the Gardens

A journey through the gardens at Lotusland is a magical experience on any day, but on July 29 the stunning background was only part of the phenomenal experience. For Lotusland’s “Avant Garden” summer bash, fashion installations by the renowned Italian house Valentino, along with a variety of entertainment, were deftly placed throughout the spectacular gardens.The annual fundraising event, which sold out two months in advance, was attended by 500 guests, fashionably sporting garden attire, black tie outfits, and amusing costumes. The event raised an estimated $400,000 for Lotusland’s operations. The fashion theme was chosen because Ganna Walska, the estate’s founder, was known for her iconic style — in her clothes as well as her garden.

Guests were greeted at the entrance with an assortment of libations and a performance by Opera Santa Barbara’s soprano Deborah Bertling and mezzo-soprano Joanna Lynn-Jacobs. As guests began their journey, they were met by decorative artist Colette Cosentino who was putting the final touches on a 400-foot-long mural that separates the main walkway from what will become the new Japanese Garden. Working with photographs from the landscape architecture team, Cosentino beautifully painted, just for this event, a vision of what will appear in late 2018.

Inside the Main House was the special exhibition, Avant Ganna, showcasing Walska’s own fashion sense with her eclectic collection of costumes and jewels. Guests were greeted in the breathtaking aloe garden with a violin concert and in the equally lovely water garden with the first Valentino installation. All of the clothes at the event were from Valentino’s fall 2017 collection, featuring floral prints. The rose garden featured live cello music, and the striking topiary garden was the scene of more Valentino fashions.

Around the next corner, in the shade of the olive allée, State Street Ballet dancers gracefully performed selections from Common Ground. Against the picturesque backdrop of olive trees, the performance was especially enchanting. While it was difficult to leave the allée, the modern cactus garden beckoned with beautiful models featuring yet more of Valentino’s fall collection.

After this exhilarating garden and fashion odyssey, guests emerged on the grand lawn, where more libations, hors-d’oeuvres and music awaited them. Comfy lounge furniture was interspersed with bar tables for those wishing to recline, though most preferred to mix and mingle.

A three-course meal featuring New York strip medallions was served alfresco. During the program, docent James Cunningham and student Elena Thomas explained Lotusland’s 4th Grade Outreach Program, which provides life-science classroom presentations and hands-on learning experiences at Lotusland for students throughout the county. Guests enjoyed another performance by State Street Ballet and emcee/auctioneer Eliza Osborne, executive director of the Centre Pompidou Foundation, enticed guests in a live auction.

Lotusland is a 37-acre botanical garden home to more than 3,200 plant species. Madame Ganna Walska spent 43 years designing the 25 individual, unusual gardens. The event helps support its $3 million annual cost of operations. For more info, go to

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By Gail Arnold

Maria Wilson (as Ganna Walska) and Monte Wilson

By Gail Arnold

Decorative artist Colette Cosentino in front of her mural

By Gail Arnold

Sharon Kempner, Melody Delshad, and Lynda Weinman

By Gail Arnold

Lotus Society Chair Peggy Wiley, Eric Nagelmann, and Wilson Quarre

By Gail Arnold

Brett Gewirtzman and Kate Lee

By Gail Arnold

Soprano Deborah Bertling from Opera Santa Barbara

By Gail Arnold

Grace Ann Rogers

By Gail Arnold

Dana Newquist with one of three vintage autos he loaned Lotusland for the event

By Gail Arnold

Valentino fashions

By Gail Arnold

Guests relax and mingle on the grand lawn.

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