Thursday, March 12, 2015

Creating Garden Border Beds - in Ecuador - at Hacienda Cusin

Hacienda Cusin allele walk- just beyond the blue door

Today was a good day to be a gardener – at Hacienda Cusin, in Ecuador. 
The day started with the scintillating walk to breakfast from the El Monasterio where me -- and the Landscape Design Alumni group (LDSA) garden designers are living.  Here, there is carved wooden doors, antiques, “a baroque altar,” hand-painted murals and a secret door…
The spicy, sweet scents of jasmine and eucalyptus “blows me kisses” as I step through the gates to cross the bridge where I’m “handed off” to the beguiling honeysuckle – who it seems also reminds me to look up to the cloud-kissed Andean mountains standing sentry in the near distance.

The walk through the cobblestone allee was already like “moving meditation” accompanied by all manner of whizzing insects and buzzing birds, (oh those streaking emerald and sapphire hummingbirds!) to serenade the walk.

I always say, every great garden tells a story – and our goal here is to better tell the story of Hacienda Cusin through its ornamental gardens.  And what a story it has to tell.

But like all beauty queens, the garden beds were ready for their makeover.

We begin the day fueling up with coffee by the fire in the Casa Cusin’s well-appointed sitting area, before enjoying a full, delicious breakfast of local yogurt and omelets made with local cheese – the area bordering Hacienda Cusin is known for its dairies and its rose nurseries.  

Then it was out to the gardens to work.  The team of women worked on the allee border garden again today.  The men worked in another area, preparing the garden beds for the agapanthus that will soon be planted there. Gus also found a tarantella there!  He killed it inadvertently while working the beds (thank goodness, too.)

The allee walk leads from the main areas of Hacienda Cusin including the restaurant, biblioteca/library, and reception to the El Monasterio.  It also bifurcates the wider expanses of lawns there where receptions can be held. There is a big wedding this weekend!
From a garden design standpoint the borders are rather unique in this way because they are seen from both sides, not just the front, as is the case with most garden beds.  Therefor the design needs to be determined from both sides.  This means tall in the middle  - and leveling the plant heights down accordingly on each side of the bed. 
The allee has an overarching canopy of trees filled with bromeliads and orchids.  

In turn, the tree cathedral “ceiling” affects the amount of sunlight on each border bed that affects the amount of water and soil composition.  Taking all this under consideration was necessary to determine the beauty makeover of the border beds.

We garden mujeres designed the borders to feature more swaths or groupings of plants.  We did this to create drama, to draw the eye to a more calming sensation vs. a more unconscious jarring sensation created by different plant types laid out staccato-like.

We removed the big ferns that were hiding the lovely stone, Asian-inspired lantern at the end of an allee artery; pruning the tall aloe that stand at attention on either side. 
Before the makeover

The jade plants that were there seemed to cry out for more of a presence; therefore we created a semi-circle out from the lantern with more jade plants – repurposed from other garden spots. 
After makeover - clean view of sculpture - more jade plant grouping
Linda clearing out the lantern garden
Linda also planted Forget-Me-Not behind the lantern in a pretty, clean exposure. 

I removed five St. John's Wort plants that were misplaced and really just didn’t look like they belonged amidst all the other more tropical and semi tropical plants.  Out they came, roots and all.
Me, & my St. John Wort "trophy"

Gus and his St. John Wort "trophy!"

Becca – our “bold border guru,” was superb at envisioning the mass plantings that needed to be created and at locating plants from other parts of the garden to be transplanted. Thus we pruned and cleaned one area – such as opening up the specimen windmill palm that was being crowded with aloe – all while designing and filling in another area.  Smart gardening design - -and smart horticulture, too.

I wanted to add some stones to a new fern and aloe composition and it worked so much that it looked like it had always been there.  Nice.  

We also massed aloe in another opposite part of the border allee to create an ornamental sweep as well as to place plants that didn’t need much water on the “hot” side of the bed.

Peg pruned up a giant Euryops chrysanthemoides species – a yellow daisy-like tall shrub. 
Further down, Linda cleaned up the low-growing sedum, taking out the vinca that threated to clutter the look (and worse to take over) and then cleaned up the plants hanging over the cobble border edge.  She was sitting on the path doing this.  
Before sedum bed

Linda cleaning sedum border

After - Sedum border
Not so long after, we saw a scorpion there!  We have learned from Gus, that the scorpions like the walls and stone borders because it’s cool; the minerals there bring the insects and food they eat.  But Yikes! 
So we also learned – no sitting on the ground to weed and prune.  One must have agility to move quickly in case danger rears it’s lobster-like claws!

Becca moved some Kniphofia – Red Hot Pokers - to add color and height. Don’t you just love their impressive color and sassy look?   Those fluted bottlebrush tops remind me of a Beefeater hat – but maybe a Beefeater from Jamaica!  

We are almost finished with this allee border. The day before the team worked the first part – exposing the beautifully crafted stone wall by pruning plants and removing some plants altogether and creating low-growing plant compositions.  I cleaned and pruned the Crocosmia bed – but I pushed my health too far.  I had yet recovered enough from the altitude illness aka “Soroche.”  

But not before seeing the gigantic beetle Amy discovered in her garden bed area!  Wowsy.  We’re not in Kansas any more!  
Mel and the Beetle!

I love, love, love the panko – blue agave bed composition Amy created there. 
Amy and the Blue Agave composition

 Mel cleaned up the geraniums and impatiens beds.  The impatiens here grows taller than me!
I also received a tour of the incredible vegetable garden at Hacienda Cusin that helps to contribute to the menu’s delicious homegrown dishes.  (More on this garden coming up. It deserves its own feature – trust me.)  
Teaser image from the Edible Garden at Casa Cusin

We enjoyed a fabulous comida and later – a fiesta at the gorgeous home of one of the Hacienda Cusin’s management family.   

Today, more garden bed work in preparation for the wedding this weekend. 

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