Taiko drummers, trellises strung with origami cranes and a closing sake toast were just a few of the nods to Japanese culture that marked Saturday night’s Lotusland fundraiser themed to celebrate the Montecito estate’s newly renovated Japanese garden.
Guests arriving at the Lotusland Celebrates: Memoirs of a Garden gala meandered the footpaths surrounding the koi pond, where orange- and black-speckled fish could be spotted darting between lily pads and glinting in the late-afternoon sun. Attendees walked past vintage stone lanterns, lotus blossoms and perfectly manicured contemplation gardens and across wooden footbridges, all part of a long-running and recently completed $6.5-million renovation.
Costumed dancers and musical performers tucked into the garden’s lush foliage surprised guests at every turn; classical Japanese dancer Nancy Teramura Hayata could be seen on the lotus viewing deck of the Japanese garden; the Santa Barbara Symphony String Quartet set up under the canopy of an immense dragon tree; and a trio of flautists (Joanne Lazzaro, Ed Rockett and Bob Sedivy) provided a serene serenade from their post alongside the fantastical critters of the garden’s topiary. After a walking tour that wound through the cactus and euphorbia garden and the insectary garden, guests spilled onto the expansive main lawn dotted with conical fabric tents that resembled traditional Japanese lanterns.
There, guests including actors January Jones, Camille Belle (both dressed in ensembles by Italian luxury label Etro, one of this year’s sponsors) and Jennifer Tilly, photographers Dewey Nicks and Ellen von Unwerth and designers Monique Lhuillier and Rodarte’s Laura Mulleavy, milled about, accompanied by the thundering percussion of Ojai O’Daiko’s taiko drumming before sitting for a Japanese-themed dinner. The menu included shishito peppers, lemongrass and tamarind grilled beef tenderloin and fried rice with miso-roasted eggplant with Thai basil.
After dinner, a spirited live auction added $220,000 to the garden’s coffers (the top draw was a dinner for 10 in the newly renovated Japanese garden, which sold twice; gaveling out once for $42,000 and a second time for $22,000, the most unique item up for bid — the naming rights to a five-foot-tall stone lantern placed by the garden’s founder Ganna Walska — fetched $24,000), bringing the net total raised at this year’s gala to $500,000 and the total raised through the annual fundraiser to more than $8.5 million over the last quarter century.