On July 24, Lotusland hosted Petal to the Metal, the 2021 version of its annual fundraiser, which this year featured classic Italian cars and artwork and raised $545,000. The entire event, according to Event Co-Chair Caroline Thompson, was “a spectacular showcase, representing the best of classic Italian automobile design and fine art, set in one of the most beautiful gardens in the world.”
To ensure social distancing, the event had two sessions: 250 general ticket holders entered between noon and 3:30 p.m., and then 250 sponsors were welcomed from 4:30 p.m. on. Both sessions sold out early, as this event does every year. Guests strolled at their leisure along the walkways and into the magnificent gardens, some of which had art installed just for the event, and viewed a smattering of classic Italian cars along the way to the Great Lawn. On this great expanse were most of the 31 cars on display, along with a large-scale mural by Chris Wyrick, and installations by metal fabricator Alex Rasmussen.
Ron Hein, Paul Hageman, and Andrew Tymkiw curated the collection of Italian cars from 1938 through the 1980s, which were drawn from private collections and had a combined market value exceeding $100 million. Highlights included a 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 Touring Spider and a 1960 Ferrari 246 Sport Dino. Lamborghini, Lancia, Siata, and more were represented.
Italian autos are known for their styling houses, particularly Pininfarina, Bertone, and Giugiaro, and for their custom builders, such as Scaglietti and Ghia. According to the curating team, Italian autos have a striking artistic appeal and elegance, and they contrast well with Lotusland’s natural setting. In designing the show’s layout, the team considered the cars’ age, color, design, lines, and angularity against the backdrop of the Great Lawn and its artistic installations, creating a visually appealing display for the auto connoisseur and casual viewer alike.
L.A.-based muralist Wyrick, whose botanical murals have been featured in Architectural Digest, collaborated with the Lotusland team to create site-specific installations for the Great Lawn and individual gardens.
Rasmussen, of Santa Barbara–based Neal Feay, who works with anodized aluminum, collaborated with architect Marc Appleton to create a large bar with a metal pergola on the Great Lawn. Rasmussen’s enormous blue WAVE lined part of the Great Lawn perimeter and other pieces were placed in the gardens.
Curator of Lotusland’s Living Collections Paul Mills and Assistant Curator Anna Bower were on hand, happily sharing their vast knowledge about Lotusland’s extensive plant collection. So, too, was Research Associate & Archivist Rose Thomas, who enthusiastically shared stories about Lotusland’s founder, Madame Ganna Walska, including her car collection in Europe and Santa Barbara. Her display featured photos of Madame with her Rolls-Royces, Cadillacs, and more.
For the sponsors, the garden stroll and reception amid the cars and art on the Great Lawn were followed by lovely dining experiences in the individual gardens. Elegantly appointed tables provided guests with privacy, social distancing, and surroundings of awe-inspiring beauty.
COVID required the closure of Lotusland in March 2020 for two months, and when it reopened, self-guided tours replaced docent-led ones. Revenue took a hit last year because of the cancellation of events, a major source of income. Though visits resumed in spring 2020 and demand this summer has been at a record level, a county use permit limits visits to 15,000 annually, severely constraining this income source, which is only about 10 percent of total revenue.
With COVID, a new educational program was created — the Junior Botanist Program. With volunteer adult Garden Attendants, 4th-grade docents, and a custom activity guide, students in the 4th grade lead their families on a Lotusland tour and scavenger hunt. Teachers invite the students into this free program, in which more than 1,500 have participated already. Remarkably, because of remote instruction last year, some teachers met their students for the first time at Lotusland. This fall, the program will resume, and the hope is to have classes participate together.
Lotusland is a 37-acre botanical garden home to more than 3,200 plant species and 25 individual, extraordinary gardens. An annual budget of $3.6 million, a staff of 45 (full- and part-time), and 250 volunteers keep it and its programs running. For more info or to make a required reservation, go to lotusland.org. Docent-led tours will resume after Labor Day.