Monday, March 9, 2015

Artful Garden Design in Ecuador

Just after stepping out of the airport terminal at Quito, Ecuador, the majestic mountains greeted me, thus rendering the horror of travel due to the ineptitude of two, supposedly top-tier US airlines – a passing memory that will be dealt with another time.

Now, it was the time to be awestruck.

After our driver from Hacienda Cusin, Angel, had us swept up - baggage in the car in no time – he pointed out our first Q-Tip-topped volcano in the distance: Cotopaxi. 
Angel was the unofficial tour guide for the approximately one-hour drive through the Pichincha Province to the breathtaking sierra of Imbabura Province where the hotel cum Garden of Eden is located. Angel really earned his wings, though, driving like something out of “The French Connection” – passing groups of cars, taking on the hairpin turns that course the highway – all while playing a sophisticated guide. 
We – our driving companion was a delightful woman, Lorna Traube from San Francisco, who came to enjoy the gardens and horse-back riding here for the first time while visiting her son who is teaching English in nearby Quito. 

The drive up to Hacienda Cusin was precarious given all the switchbacks and steep mountain roads (and passing).  Think Alps – but green.
Angel pointed out another volcano in the distance – and the surrounding area’s landscapes that drive their unique enterprises: growing roses, dairy, and so on while I hopped from window to window.
The highway is a feat of engineering – with this strip just eight month’s old – the road is cut onto/into the mountain as part of the Pan American Highway – the one traversed by Che Guevara’s transforming adventure. So too, it is for me and other visitors to Ecuador. 

This is my first to Ecuador’s sierra but already I can say that it will not be my last.  Here it’s an explosion of things to do. Or not do.
Poised at the crossroads of the Equator and 8,500 feet nearer to the sky, the hacienda resort and hotel is an artful retreat.

It’s a sensory immersion at Hacienda Cusin and its 30 acres of bliss. 
What do I mean?
For starters, there is the boundary-less flow of indoors and out that is indulgent and calming at the same time.  You are part of the silky-smooth air and cinema-worthy landscapes – inside and out.

It’s the details here that whisper to you… Taken together it’s an experience that needs to be savored...
A faint fragrance that conjures licorice wafts the rooms and salons, punctuated by the spicy incense of the wood-burning fireplaces that are in every room, including the bedroom casitas.  Forget or never knew how comforting it is to fall asleep with nothing but a crackling fire and a hot water bottle as a lullaby?  (And no TV in the rooms :). This is the place to rejuvenate your sleeping circadian rhythms.  Take notice, Arianna Huffington  ("Thrive" better ways to sleeping to success)    

Here at Hacienda Cusin, the sounds of the wind rustling, sweeping --almost assertively roaring -- through the trees is a symphony of sounds. Speaking of music -- joyful,
classical music plays throughout the hacienda and grounds, lending an element of heightened sensory happiness.  

The d├ęcor and furnishings could be a movie set design.  They could also serve as a living museum of the decorative arts’ furnishing and design – where Spanish colonialism, religious artifact, and Ralph Lauren got tumbled together and created this intriguing elixir. 
More on the incredibly sculpted wood doors,

(and keys!)
wood banisters and railings that hug the steps, stairs, and balconies.

I’ll also be sharing the glorious fountains, vistas, and did I mention there are llamas on the grounds!  Calling Dr. Doolittle to this patch of sylvan folly!

And of course, the most beautiful sensory experience is the garden art that embraces the visitor with dazzling color, fragrance, and texture while playing the good host to all sorts of buzzing, creeping, whizzing, and flying creatures.  Oh, the birds!  

Nothing, nothing – can replace the sensation of having sparrow-sized, emerald-green, glamorous hummingbirds greet you while sitting; chirp-chirping as they zig and zag.  So flirty and fast. 
Why are they so shy?
Then I looked up and saw the green beauty had landed in her equally chic abode/hacienda, perched on the side of a wrought iron lantern, looking for all the world like a Victorian hat ornament of the most fanciful style.
Guess I know where I’ll be writing from over the course of this garden adventure – right under the hummingbird nest filled with two thimble sized heads and their tiny as a sewing needle beaks, awaiting their next feeding.  All while being serenaded by songbirds.  What a show.  

Look closely - you can see the baby birds in the nest - beaks aloft

Welcome to Paradise.

Nik, the owner and our host, reminds me we are right on the equator – despite the mild 77-degree temperatures. The sun is hot. 
He has offered some sound advice helping me to overcome my first-day altitude issues, which he assures me, is a very rare occurrence.   
Having gone to school in Switzerland and being in good garden or “fighting” shape, I am dismayed my body is betraying me. 
He kindly explained that at 8,500 feet, the air is thinner.  And learning I’d just come from sea level Aruba  (and the Garden State’s shore for a mere few hours before hopping back on an airplane)  – compounded by the foul, artificial air of all that plane travel, too little sleep – the body is stressed.  The blood needs to thin.  He recommended lots of water, no alcohol, staying warm, and rest.  Eat modestly.  The brain should not be in competition with the body so avoid the need for heavy digestion.  Interesting…
So my running will have to wait, as does my garden work with the team today. They are so understanding.

See, I’m here to work on garden design and plant care with my fellow gardeners from The New York Botanical Gardens’ (NYBG) Landscape Design Alumni (LDSA) group. 
LDSA is a terrific group of landscape design professionals.  During the winter months, we have monthly meetings, followed by lectures – all geared to improve our work and to support one another, in the same way. 

Mel Bellar, owner Zone 4 Landscapes and fellow LDSA garden designer, has been working and visiting Hacienda Cusin, along with his talented and beautiful wife (and blogger), Peggy. 

This is the first year that he is leading a team of us working together in Paradise, er, Hacienda Cusin. 
It’s a terrific group.  I’ll provide more background on these talented artists but for now, let me introduce these irrepressible gardeners: Amy, Linda, Becca, and Agustin aka Gus – who is Mel's business partner  at Zone 4 Landscapes, and Peggy.  
Becca works her pruning mojo on the wild honeysuckle!

Peggy - deadheading a canna composition she & Mel created last year

Left to Right - Linda, Amy & Becca

Left to Right: Amy, Becca, Nik - owner of Hacienda Cusin - me, Mel, Peggy & Gus

I am so looking forward to sharing our glamorous garden adventure with you. It’s so breathtakingly beautiful here. I think I’ve already taken a bazillion images…

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