Virginia Marie Hayes

1950 - 2018

Virginia Marie Hayes passed away at her home in Ojai on February 21, 2018 after a brief illness. Virginia was born on October 4, 1950 in the Central Valley of California in the town of Modesto. Virginia’s parents, Ray and Louise Hayes had a family farm specializing in almonds and other crops. Virginia spent her childhood years on the family farm where her life long love of plants began.

After graduating from high school and ready to leave small town life, Virginia enrolled in Westmont College in Santa Barbara where her older brother, Jerry, was a student. While at Westmont, Virginia met and married David Shelton. Virginia and David lived in Montana while David was in graduate school. After returning to Santa Barbara, they had two children, Nina born in 1973 and Joe born in 1977.

In the 1980’s as a single mother, Virginia returned to college at UCSB where she received her BS degree in Botany. Virginia’s personal and career interests in botany began to merge. As an undergraduate, she was the manager of the Santa Barbara Water Garden Nursery on East Mountain Drive. In 1988, she purchased Santa Barbara Water Garden Care, a gardening business specializing in the installation and maintenance of water gardens. In 1992, Virginia applied to be the water gardener at Lotusland. Deciding that she was overqualified for the gardening position, Steve Timbrook, then Executive Director of Ganna Walska Lotusland, hired Virginia as the Associate Curator of the Living Collection. While working full-time at Lotusland and living on the grounds, Virginia returned to UCSB for her Master’s degree in Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology. Writing about her thesis, Virginia said, “I investigated the flowers of the lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) and their variation among wild populations.” Her research involved photo microscopy of the reproductive parts of the flower.

In her twenty-five year career as the Curator of the Living Collection at Lotusland, Virginia’s contributions were many. Mike Iven, retired Director of Grounds and Facilities, says, “Early on, all of us stepped out of our designated roles and defined job descriptions in order to do the things that needed to be accomplished to become a public garden. Steve Timbrook supported anyone taking on these projects and it was fun and productive working with a group focused on common goals. Virginia played a major role in developing the docent training program, plant records, library cataloguing, photographic archives, and Ganna Walska’s history and personal archives. She was the go-to expert on Ganna Walska and the garden history. She developed the docent curriculum, planned the courses and trained every docent from 1992 until her retirement in 2017. She organized and led special tours to private gardens and was the one called on to lead VIP tours. She was an excellent garden writer and chronicled Lotusland’s growth in horticultural journals and other periodicals. Virginia wrote the Design Guidelines document that requires all renovations, improvements and additions to the Garden to be considerate in retaining the spirit of Ganna Walska.”

Virginia was a prolific writer and authored articles in every Lotusland Newsletter for 25 years. She wrote two books Ganna Walska Lotusland Collections and Horticulture co-authored with Steven Timbrook and The Garden Gourmet, an organic gardening book published by Barron’s. She wrote for Pacific Horticulture, Water Garden Journal of the IWGS and American Public Garden, where she served on the Editorial Advisory Board. She wrote for Montecito Magazine and wrote hundreds of gardening columns for The Santa Barbara Independent dating from 1999 until 2014.

Virginia’s knowledge of the lotus family made her a world renowned lecturer at botanical conferences. Under the auspices of the International Water Lily and Water Garden Society (IWGS), Virginia served many years as Registrar of the genus Nelumbo for International Cultivar Registration Authorities of the International Society for Horticultural Science based in Belgium.

She was actively involved with the American Public Garden Association’s Plant Collections Network program which assessed nationally recognized plant collections. Virginia’s highest curatorial priorities were to expand and preserve the amazing historic collections, and the international recognition that has been bestowed on Lotusland is to some degree the result of her work. She represented Lotusland at International Conferences on Cycad Biology in Australia, Mexico, Panama, China (where she presented a paper on registration of Nelumbo to a group of 300 Chinese botanic professionals who entertained her for three weeks while escorting her to many gardens) and Vietnam and at the 1998 Botanic Gardens Conservation International Congress in Capetown, South Africa. Virginia was a curious soul and an observant scientist. Her curiosity led her to pursue personal trips to many places around the world, including England, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Kenya and Australia.

Virginia was active in the Santa Barbara community. She served for ten years on the Franceschi Park Advisory Board and volunteered for many years with the Empty Bowls fundraiser that benefits the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County. In 2008, Santa Barbara Beautiful recognized Virginia’s contributions to Santa Barbara with the Jacaranda Award. The award was given for Outstanding Community Service honoring her gardening column in the Santa Barbara Independent which “educates the community about gardening and sustainability to promote a healthy environment.”

Virginia was predeceased by her mother, Louise Hayes and by her older brother, Jerry Hayes.

She is survived by her daughter Nina Zinn (Richard), her son Joe Shelton and his wife Elaine Madsen and her two grandsons, Loring and Owen Shelton, her father Ray Hayes, her brother Allen Hayes (Luann), her sister Lynda Hersman (Russ) and many friends and fans. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County or Santa Barbara Beautiful. A private memorial service will be held.

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