The S.B. Questionnaire: Eric Nagelmann

Talking Travel and Party Outfits with Santa Barbara’s Master Landscape Artist

Eric Nagelmann at his home in Carpinteria with his dogs Tote and Fig. (Feb. 7, 2016)
Paul Wellman

Eric Nagelmann is one of the best landscape designers in the world.

He grew up poor in Santa Barbara, where he started taking care of his parents’ garden. Though he never finished high school, Eric was taken under the wing of renowned artist and landscape designer Jack Henderson Baker, who became an inspiration. Baker hired Eric for $1.50 an hour to work on gardens, and that’s where his imagination would go wild.

Among other creative techniques, Eric started mixing tropical plants with succulents, and his reputation steadily grew. Eventually, he was introduced to a Montecito crowd that included Dame Judith Anderson, Margaret Mallory, Wright Ludington, and Paige Rense, the former editor of Architectural Digest who hired Eric to design three of her houses.

There are two projects that Eric is extremely proud of and considers the feathers in his cap. The first is the cactus garden at Lotusland. In 1999, Merrit Dunlap, a friend of Lotusland’s visionary Madame Ganna Walska, donated his extensive collection of columnar cacti. Eric was given free reign to create the first garden not designed by Walska herself. It’s a dramatic work — paths snake between raised beds, converging on an elevated viewing terrace near the center of the garden.

But perhaps more impressive to those from outside Santa Barbara, Eric is also responsible for the garden at the Sheats Goldstein residence, the house most famously featured in The Big Lebowski. The property was donated to LACMA (the Los Angeles County Museum of Art) just last week.

Eric is like a character from a movie himself, always stylishly dressed and wearing phenomenal eyewear. He travels the world for inspiration and for work. He’s a charming storyteller, which is perfect, because he always has incredible stories to tell.

This landscape master answers the Proust Questionnaire.

What is your current state of mind?

After a long visit in India, I’m marveled at how beautiful humans can be.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Tough one. I’m pretty happy with who I am.

What do you like most about your job?

I get to travel, meet great people, visit amazing places, and make them more amazing!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Traveling to beautiful places.

What is your greatest fear?

Getting sick!

Who do you most admire?

Just visited Gandhi’s home, where he was shot. It was very emotional.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Traveling and dance lessons.

What is the quality you most like in people?


What is the quality you most dislike in people?


What do you most value in friends?

That they make me aware of strengths and intelligence that I possess but am not aware of, among many other things!

What is your most marked characteristic?

Party outfits and thinking outside the box.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?


Which talent would you most like to have?

To play music well.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I’ve made it to sixty [next month] mostly unscathed!

Where would you most like to live?

In a different place around the world every few months.

What is your most treasured possession?

If animals can be considered a possession, my two dogs, Fig and Tote.

Who makes you laugh the most?

I’m afraid he passed away years ago, but my friend Micheal.

What is your motto?

Inspiration and imagination.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Roberto Burle Marx.

On what occasion do you lie?

Can’t really think of particular instances. I’ve really nothing to hide!


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.