Thursday, January 28, 2016

Garden Design at Hacienda Cusin in Ecuador: the Fragrance Garden

A Hacienda Cusin Garden View
Picking up (the trowel, so to speak) from the last Garden Glamour post about this year’s garden design project at Hacienda Cusín - here I'm sharing our work in the garden.

This follows the process of design, research, approval, and then the seed propagation EunYoung Sebazco, horticulturist and founder, Live Rice brought for the micro-greens, and the acquisition of local/native plants and seeds to fulfill the design concepts.
EunYoung at the local nursery where we shopped for plants, Photo courtesy of Sarah Owens

El Grupo Duchess securing plants at the local nursery, Photo courtesy of EunYoung Sebazco

The nursery purchases for the Fragrance & Edible Garden now back at Cusin! Photo courtesy of Linda Tejpaul

Getting our new fragrance plants to the gardens.  I fell on my bottom pulling these babies up thru the garden gates. Photo courtesy of Sarah Owens
Now we were ready to dig into the soil. Consider the beds in Ecuador. First up are the garden beds - later for the sleeping beds :)

But first - it was time for lunch.
El Grupo lunch on one of the terraces at Hacienda Cusin. Delicious food and glorious dining! 

Here in Cusin, near Otavalo (probably the best food and craft market anywhere), in the Imbabura Province, the days are pretty warm - idyllic, in fact, in the 70-degree Fahrenheit range - clear and warm - no humidity. At night, the temperatures drop to a cool 50F or so. The range is ideal for plants and people. As a matter of fact, the area has become a kind of burgeoning haven for US retirees looking for a slice of heaven - a very affordable heaven.

Given the vagaries of climate chaos, it has affected Ecuador in a way that is idiosyncratic to their region and place. Here that means the rains have not come with their usual frequency. Often referenced as the “land of the eternal spring” due to the climate of rain and the cool temperatures, there is much less rain lately than is “normal.” Cusin’s owner, Nik wrote me just before we left for our work project there that it hadn’t rained at all from December to New Year’s Day. Not a drop. It rained a few afternoons when we were there - a real downpour the one day we were not prepared and at the market in Otavalo… But the true lack of rain had to figure into the garden designs...

By the way, if you don’t know, Ecuador is the most biodiverse area in the world. The country's three climate areas are very distinct: the coast where the Galapagos are, the Amazon, and the sierra, where Cusin is located. Most tourists to Ecuador readily visit all three locales as the distance is not great between the three areas and the exotic plant and wildlife is a too-exciting, must-see - - especially as most of us are increasingly, urbanites and don't ever get to see this much nature - let alone the variety that graces Ecuador.

Cusin is located about 10,000 feet above sea level. And still, every day we looked up and beyond, stopping to admire the Andes’ cloud-kissed mountains that hug the hacienda and nearby towns. It's an enchanting work site, indeed.

So, after we accumulated our fragrance plants for the new Fragrance Garden and all the edibles we could get our hands on, it was time to prepare the beds.

Before our nursery shopping expedition, we had already worked the beds around the casita at 25.
Here, we planted the new, low-growing alstroemeria whose burgundy color we chose to complement the the flecks in its taller, sister plants, and surrounded them with the new strawberry plants we got at the local nursery. Their white flowers and red berries were chosen to further the color theme there. Besides the obvious benefit of harvesting sweet berries for the homegrown Cusin recipes, we wanted the strawberries’ low-growing runner stolons to also fill in the garden beds around the other plants.

A "before" at 25, Photo courtesy of Linda Tejpaul

Other side of "before" at 25, Photo courtesy of Linda Tejpaul

"After" 25 garden work, Photo courtesy of Linda TejPaul 

"Afters" at 25 - Clean, edited plant compositions!  Photo courtesy of Linda Tejpaul 
Sarah working hort magic at 25, Photo courtesy of Linda Tejpaul 

Fragrance Garden

It is still a mystery to me that in a land with such an overwhelming abundance of plant material that there aren't more fragrant plants readily available. Oh, there are the colorful, edible Fuchsia - that made a lovely dangling earring for me! And the hummingbirds just love these bold, blooming beauties.

And there is the Brugmansia, a native fragrant Ecuadorian beauty that I adore.  The blooms on this upside down trumpet look like a dramatic kind of "hanging chandelier." Brugmansia is a genus in the potato family (Solanaceae) that has five species, all from South America. The fact that this native charmer is in the potato family is not a huge surprise given that potatoes originated in this part of the world. Drive to Quito and there are more potato trucks on the road to the market than you care to pass…

I searched to find an example of Brugmansia to show that Ecuador's Andean region lies within the potato's area of genetic diversity.  I found that a particularly rich diversity of wild potato is found in central Ecuador. However, there is also now much discussion that Ecuador and Peru, in particular, may suffer from the same kind of trend toward commercial monoculture - meaning the potato diversity in this part of the world can be under threat. "No" to corporate farming…

Further, in my research for fragrant plants in Ecuador, I came across this quote from Jane Percy -- another Duchess (!) - the very real Duchess of Northumberland. As background, I had the pleasure and honor to meet the Duchess and participate on a guided tour when she visited Brooklyn Botanic Garden during the time I worked there as Director. I attended her lecture later that day at Sotheby’s, where she did a book-signing and a talk about her redevelopment of the enchanting Alnwick Garden. This special garden tells the tale of poisonous, deadly plants.
Here is the quote about the fragrant Brugmansia, commonly called "Angel’s Trumpet" -- (more like a devil, really!) :
"One of the duchess's favorite plants is Brugmansia, or angel's trumpet, a member of the Solanaceae family (which includes deadly nightshade, potato) that grows in the wild in South America. 'It's an amazing aphrodisiac before it kills you,' she says, explaining that Victorian ladies would often keep a flower from the plant on their card tables and add small amounts of its pollen to their tea to incite an LSD-like trip. "[Angel's trumpet] is an amazing way to die because it's quite pain-free," the duchess says. "A great killer is usually an incredible aphrodisiac."

I digress a bit - but it is fun, a nice memory, and germane to my research on Ecuador’s fragrant plants. Plants are transporting!

Back to the Fragrance Garden.
The existing Cusin garden - that was soon to become a Fragrance Garden - is more of a transition garden. A kind of basic quadrant design with a low fountain in the middle, with lush, yellow and orange canna plants in the center and Osteospermum or Cape Daisies around the fountain’s spherical sides.
Fragrance Garden fountain, at the crossroads of Mexican Sage & walkways, Photo courtesy, EunYoung Sebazco
The beds that hug the walkway around the fountain are filled with a profusion of water-wise Mexican Sage (Salvia leucantha). These beauties are pretty dramatic, showing off bright purple calyces, laced with white flowers. They can grow to three or four feet. It’s written, “The effect is magical, especially when butterflies and hummingbirds join the colorful display. The Mexican sage bush is an easy-care wildflower requiring only minimal pruning.”

Well, these salvia needed heavy pruning. They were kinda’ bending from the burden of too much beauty. Sarah -- Sarah Owens, horticulturist, author of Sourdough: Recipes for Rustic Fermented Breads, Sweets … and baker and owner:  BK17 Bakery and EunYoung artfully trimmed them back and soon they were standing proudly upright, happy to be the stars of this garden room.  Sarah's artful hort eye extends to the glamorous too, of course.  She bundled some of the pruned cuttings into a door decor swag.  Sweet. The pruned salvia can also be used in the rooms for guests' pot potpourri.
Door Decor - Salvia, photo courtesy of Sarah Owens
At the same time, the salvia’s purple and white color fashion helped us color-coordinate our new fragrant plants, utilizing a Complementary color scheme. This color design takes one color - as in yellow - then uses its complementary color at the other end of the color wheel. Here it is purple/violet to the opposite yellow and orange.

The white is a needed neutral, as is the green of the garden.


The fountain is located in a sunny spot, at the kind of center of a 4-way path circuit that leads from the walled Edible Garden and the main part of Cusin, to other garden rooms, and to a main “lawn” or concourse off the Biblioteca and on to the Island Gardens I wrote of last year.

The intention was to make this garden more of a destination rather than a pass-through garden.
The fountain is charming. The poppies and the Cape Daisies in the beds that line the pathways offered the yellow and orange colors, along with the purple/violet and white of the salvia from which we would build upon for the Fragrance Garden.

El Grupo Duchess was able to secure purple heliotrope at the local nursery in Otavalo. Heliotrope is one of my all-time favorite plants. It’s an annual in the New York area. I use it in my garden, (it got to about 2-plus feet this year), as well as my clients' gardens. The color is deep and rich. The fragrance is intoxicating. It is redolent of vanilla. The warm sun releases the fragrance. The Heliotrope will be a spectacular addition here.

We also added low-growing, fragrant, purple alyssum. It can take the heat and provides a delicious scent not unlike jasmine.

We located a white, Diamond Frost Euphorbia plant - a kind of newish hybrid that sports continuous white flowers. Some say it replaces Baby’s Breath in the garden. Up north, this is a great annual filler in the border or container. In Ecuador, it is a non-stop bloomer and a workhorse companion plant.

We were also able to secure some heat-loving, fragrant white gardenia shrubs. Gardenia is in my top-three favorite plants. I so love the fragrance; I wore them in hair for my senior prom. I think I was channelling Billie Holiday…

Now that we had the plants, we needed to edit and prune the existing Cape Daisies and poppy plants that line the walkways. They were leggy and dark at the bottom. It was rather arduous, especially in the heat of the day. Yet, we were happy for the opportunity especially when we thought of the cold weather back in Gotham. Plus, EunYoung and Sarah finally lassoed their first scorpion.
Scorpion Score: gardener's badge of honor! Photo courtesy of Sarah Owens

They were so anticipating this garden critter experience. EunYoung and Sarah were much more kind than I was last year when I experienced this lusty land lobster in my room. They, on the other hand, were so zen-like and took the critter to the outside wall. (In my defense, they were outside with their encounter!)  
The huge grubs are another story! Boy are they big there.
Heavy with grubs - EunYoung is in control of the Cusin namesake. Photo courtesy of Sarah Owens

We each worked one quadrant and EunYoung and Sarah worked the last one together, while I worked another task.

Later - over a timeframe of two days, we team-mulched the entire plantings from the Cusin homegrown compost.

We did have to hand water the new plantings a bit due to the lack of rain. I’m praying to Mother Nature/Pachamama goddess, that rain comes to the gardens…

Next post: Edible Gardens and…
Oh - and the beds for sleeping?  With a fire every night and a hot water bottle in the bed, and the magical, local, handmade artisanal blankets ... sigh...

Sarah's room & blanket, Photo courtesy of Sarah Owens

My room & that glorious fire 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Garden Design in Ecuador: How Fragrance & Edible Gardens Add to Garden Magic at Hacienda Cusin

Hacienda Cusin Chef Romano & Jefferson in the new Edible Garden bed

As many of you know, I’ve been completely smitten with Ecuador, and Hacienda Cusín especially tugs at my heartstrings ever since I first embraced this fairy-tale kingdom last year working with a group of professional gardeners, or I should say, jardineros, whose link is the New York Botanical Garden Landscape Design Alumni Group.  I wrote more than a few posts last year chronicling our work on the ornamental gardens: Creating Garden Border Beds - in Ecuador - at Hacienda … If Walls Could Talk: Garden Design in Ecuador's Hacienda …

So given the opportunity to return, I was very keen to dream a bit in order to contribute our talents to add to the magic and mystery and charm of Cusin.

First, I needed to assemble my team as Cusin preferred two smaller groups this year rather than one bigger group. In addition to Linda Tejpaul, Magnolia Design, who was part of the Cusin team last year - the invites were a slam-dunk/no-brainer for me. I immediately asked the ever-talented, dynamic horticulturist, landscape architect, NY Parks Horticulture Manager at Randall's Island, and founder Live Rice - EunYoung Sebazco --who is also the first person to grow rice in New York City -- along with Sarah Owens, who I worked with at Brooklyn Botanic Garden where she is the former curator of the Cranford Rose Garden, and has just launched her super-successful Sourdough: Recipes for Rustic Fermented Breads, Sweets Cookbook, inspired by the botanicals.
As luck would have it, Sarah was going to be in Central and South America beginning in December, so she could meet us there. Sarah and EunYoung had also worked with me for years as part of the Duchess Designs fine gardening team. So we all knew and admired one another’s horticulture and passion for the garden -- both ornamental and edible. All replied an enthusiastic “yes!”

Garden Designs

Fragrance Garden

It was then time to come up with a plan for this year’s Cusin garden design. Reflecting on last year’s experience and recalling the picture perfect landscaped gardens that bejewel the colonial elegance that is Cusin, I thought there really isn’t much to improve or change or modify… We of course do a ton of garden “editing” and fine gardening that involves pruning, weeding, creating new compositions - especially as the plants grow so fast here. But I was looking to contribute in another way too. One of the elements I thought was missing was the sensual element of fragrance.

The gardens here are so sensory: igniting one’s sight, touch, and hearing -- given the birds that orchestrate a sweet serenade during the day and the tree frogs offer a kind of syncopated cantata at night. But fragrance - while here and there - could be amplified. Thus the concept of a Fragrance Garden came to be. I asked the team to research fragrant plants that are native to Ecuador and/or that would do well here. Bonanza! I also did up a quick garden design rendering (not to scale) to share with Nik, Cusin’s owner to better demonstrate our design concepts.

The location of the Fragrance Garden is next to the Biblioteca (where I’m writing from now), adjacent to the Edible Garden - and opposite a suite of rooms/cottages where I stayed last year for a week. The fountain is in the center of a four-quadrant axis with the garden beds lining those paths. I thought we could make this more of a destination garden rather than a pass-through visual -- with the fragrant plants enticing both guests and pollinators.

Edible Garden

There’s no denying that I believe edible gardens both rival pure ornamental gardens for their beauty but also offer the best tasting food. A double delight. Again, last year I discovered this astonishing fruit and vegetable garden, visiting it many times during my work holiday here - even getting a tour from the head gardener: Luis. I took a kind of inventory in order to research and learn more about the plants. That list became useful this year.

See, I thought we might augment the edible garden, adding more local or native plants that, in turn, could better inform Cusin’s menu and recipes. I was thinking big here, I know. But given that my book: The Hamptons and Long Island Homegrown Cookbook-- was prompted as a way to explore how locally-grown ingredients inspire chefs, along with my food and drink writings for Garden Glamour and the Examiner - you can’t blame me for thinking that in some small way, we might kickstart an effort to embrace more of a cultural cuisine - making Cusin a culinary destination - to celebrate the flavors and bounty of Cusin -- along with its other charms. Besides, I’d reported on and/or have food friends who have contributed to their own country’s culinary culture ascendence, including Brooklyn (I know, but Brooklyn often does think of itself as a separate country), Denmark, Spain, and Peru. If they can do it, I figured why not us and Ecuador.

The team - that by that time the reception staff at Cusin had nicknamed, El Grupo Duchess, because of my Duchess Designs -- enthusiastically jumped in to research local Ecuadorian recipes and the plant ingredients found in their recipes. This was exciting!
Duchess Designs: Angel - Cusin's driver picked up our group at the airport in Quito

I knew right away I wanted to include the market treat I’d had last time: figs in honey with a kind of mozzarella cheese on homemade bread… mmmm.

(By the way, the local treat is guinea pig -- but I’ll have none of that, thank you! But a man on our trip to see the raptors and Condors ordered up one and Cusin accommodated. What an Instagram moment. Culinary? Not so much…)
Guinea Pig entree!

However, there are so many delicious recipes that use the bounty of this rich land, including potatoes, fruits, edible flowers, and sugar cane (panella), along with rice and dairy. Otavalo, where Cusin is located is a dairy - and rose-growing area - so the milk and yogurt are especially good.

Still in New York, the team produced a list of plants for the Fragrance Garden and the Edible Garden, along with herbs and companion plants. And recipes to illustrate how the plants can be used in the menus.

With these and the two garden design renderings, we were “ready” to meet with Nik the owner.

Fragrance Garden - it's actually on the axis - but not bad considering I did  it from memory! 

Edible Garden

Long story short here - he approved! Nik gave us the confidence and a plan on how to make it all work. Happy Day! Oh - and we planned to do fine gardening and add to the beds around 25 - a casita/cottage that is at the far end of the Edible Garden. I did my morning yoga on top of this room last year. What an inspired view. Well, really, the vistas from most any spot are heart-clenching, breathtaking, and tranquil at the same time.

Working in the Garden

Let me add that we are one of two teams of gardeners who will work here this “winter.” The Mel team that comes after us is the team Linda and I worked with last year. So once Nik approved the project plan, I shared with them.

Travel arrangements were made: Linda, EunYoung and me flew out from JFK direct to Quito via TAME airlines. Nice flight. We met Sarah at the attractive new airport where Angel, from Cusin, met us. It’s a twisty, turny, not-so-long drive to Cusin. Beautiful scenery that astonishes at every point: volcanoes, nature, and the clouds…

We hit the ground running on Friday morning. We met with Cusin’s brilliant manager, Cesar.
Cesar, Cusin's incredible manager
I had a set of plans and plant lists to review with him. Nik had already briefed him, so we set about determining how to implement the project plans. Cesar was very supportive for everything and challenged us to create the homegrown dinner menu for Thursday night guests, using the ingredients from the garden and the market. It couldn’t get better! He also asked that we look to include herbs and medicinal plants for a kind of physic garden element. We also planned our nursery shopping to get some of the plants to produce our proposed designs.

We were honored to have the project accepted and looked forward to making them proud. Cesar walked the gardens where we would be working our designs, pointing out the area where we could create the new edible garden bed, along with confirming the gardens that were part of our design proposal.

Next it was work in the gardens. Finally, getting into the rich Ecuadorian soil. As I mentioned, plants grow really fast here. In addition, pruning is a horticultural art - especially so here because every garden is a showcase - guests are always exploring the gardens - so no luxury of hard pruning because there can’t be any “holes” or cutting back hard. No problem for EunYoung - she took a leggy “wall” of fuschia and had it looking healthy and magazine-worthy in no time.
"before" pruning of fuchsia 

"After" artful pruning - now guests can see out to the Edible Garden & wall 

EunYoung divided the liriope too.
Meanwhile, I weeded and transplanted and divided the strawberries there in the pathway bed.
"Before" 25 Garden Bed path

Sarah & Linda pruning 

EunYoung & Sarah transplanting Alstroemeria

Austrian guests at Cusin: children love gardening!  This lad picked up the trowel & was an El Grupo Duchess team member before I could say, "Guten Tag!"

EunYoung dividing & planting strawberries

Puppies in the Jardin! 

Puppies were cute until they started romping on the new plantings!!

We got some surprise "help" from two adorable puppies .  I name one, "Toffee" & Sarah named the other one, "Fudge!"

"After" 25 Garden Bed - Alstroemeria transplanted tall - & new color-coordinated low alstroemeria added depth to design

I love that it looks like the plants are reaching out to one another in a kind of "bloom embrace!" 

Linda and Sarah were busy working on the entrance area to the casita - that was separated by a lovely wall from us/the side beds.
Front entrance area of Room 25 

Front entrance to 25 after fine gardening 

I also saw that the side roof prevented any plants from growing there but we needed a bit of beauty to cover what was an otherwise blank spot. I spied one container with impatiens - they grow like trees here -- and pulled that over. My design eye thought it needed another pot positioned at an angle or caty-corner so that it would better camouflage yet still get needed rain to the second pot. We got one and a palm on nursery shopping expedition. You can see the “before” and “after.”

"After" with pots & plants - making a lovely composition

We also cleaned up this architectural jewel - jokingly referred to as the"dry hot tub" that  was once used to cleanse the cows.  We're thinking of a folly for this beauty...

I think it was after lunch that we moved on to the Edible Garden. Cesar had already determined the space so it was left to create a design within that area. We worked out the egress from both sides and around a center tree. We managed to create two parterre-like beds and the other space was sculpted and yet allowed for more of an open bed for edibles and herbs.
"Before" edible garden bed 
The path from one main artery to another took a bit of a winding path - to allow guests to better pause and enjoy the edible plants looks and fragrance - and to allow the chefs easy access to their recipe ingredients.
"Before" edible garden bed

Sarah starting in on the new bed

Sarah, Cusin jardinero Vincente, & me
Sarah, Vincente - he lent some of their big tools - we could only bring hand tools in luggage - & Linda 

First stage: outlining/digging beds & paths

And then Linda reminded us that Japanese gardens used winding paths to thwart the evil spirits. But only good spirits in Cusin garden!

Sneak Peek to "After" with Edible Garden micrograms & pepper plants

Planted new edibles 

The next day we shopped the local nurseries for fragrance and edibles.
EunYoung, Linda, & Sarah inspecting citrus & stone fruits at the nursery

So many pretty pots to choose from

El Grupo Duchess - successful nursery buying trip

Eye Candy nursery plants in Ecuador
Not too much of edible plants were available - so being the plucky horticulturists that we are -- we determined we could get the local/natives at the market in Otavalo and grow them!

After all, EunYoung brought microgreen seeds that we started on Friday and they were sending up shoots by Tuesday.

EunYoung explaining the microgreen's propagation to Luis & Jorge - some of Cusin's top garden talent

Cusin's rich compost helped get the seedling up & growing in a week

After purchasing some chocolate mint plants (just two! -- not to take over) and some medicinal plants, we walked to where a family was selling red beans we recognized from our research, oka, and lima beans. The lima beans are BIG here. We learned so much from the family, especially given Linda’s Spanish language skills. The women were busy shelling peas while the father taught us how to prepare the seeds and oka for planting. It was a fantastic learning experience for all of us.

a kind of lima bean - to be planted after drying and yellow part turns black

Our market "teacher" shows us Oka - a kind of sunchoke.  I love this taste!

So, we secured a few Oka to plant - with direction from our market teacher

Food market in Otavalo

More market images:

Next post: Preparing the beds and planting.

*And if you want the plant lists we prepared, please just write me.