Saturday, December 27, 2008


In the fall of 2008 I had the great honor of spending an entire morning with David De Groot, Curator of the Weyerhaeuser Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection. David has been the collection's curator since it opened with 60 specimen in 1989 to celebrate Washington State's centennial. Today, there are over 100 plants in the collection and David leads a team of experts that not only care for one of the largest bonsai collections in the US, they work diligently to inspire and educate visitors with dozens of lectures, special exhibits, and intimate tours of the collection.

It goes without saying, that each bonsai was magnificent...I could easily spend hours appreciating and then describing each and every one. The more time you take looking at each bonsai, the more you discover in the foliage, the trunk, the branches, etc. One thing that made the collection so striking to me was its setting among tall Douglas fir, hemlock, vine maple, and other trees. This made the attention to detail in bonsai placement and display even more evident and highlights the beauty of nature at every scale. Having David himself guide me through the collection was an extraordinary opportunity and I can only compare it to something like taking a fencing lesson from a world class Maitre d’Armes. I might have been able to perceive many beautiful and stirring attributes of each bonsai on my own, but David was always able to point out and interpret even more attributes that were even more subltle, yet profound.

The history and culture of the bonsai collection is remarkable in itself but it is also clear that this history and culture are closely intertwined with the Weyerhaeuser corporate culture as well. Long term care and management are requisite with any bonsai collection, essentially an outdoor living art museum. The idea of long term care and management is core to the Weyerhaeuser corporate culture and values as well and it is evident throughout the grounds of the rest of the Weyerhaeuser International Headquarters campus. David also took me on a short tour of the 500 acre campus where nature is often left to take its course. More a true forest than a corporate garden, the extensive grounds include lakes and meadows, many open and canopied trails, and a few surprises such as a large nurse log and giant ant hills that dot the landscape.

Although Weyerhaeuser has often been the target of criticism regarding their own and industry-wide forestry practices, today they are considered to be one of the industry leaders with sustainability being among their key business goals as demonstrated in their products, their operations, and their community involvement.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Westin Maui Resort & Spa

"Where Heaven and Aloha Meet"
That is the trademark saying of the Maui Westin and I must say every word is true. In fact, at the Westin, everything is heavenly. The architecture is stunning, the gardens are stunning, and the staff provide outstanding customer service.

The first attraction along this heavenly journey would have to be the alluring architecture of the main building, a giant but gentle white "S" shape that conjures up the first notion or paradise with its tranquil waves. But it is not long before the gardens completely sweep you off your feet. They seem to go on forever and offer new vignettes and surprises with each new path you take. There is a strong Asian influence throughout the grounds in part due to the elegant traditional statues and modern sculpture that are placed sparingly but perfectly throughout the resort. The lobby colonnade features a lake complete with waterfalls and flamingos. The Maui Westin has a strong landscape design sense...they are clearly not just placing beautiful plants here and there like many resorts, many of the plant presentations are artistically thought out both in form and in color combinations making one want to just sit and enjoy them for a while - and in 'Hawaii time' one can and should sit and enjoy them for a very long while indeed. I feel what is most reflected in the gardens at the Maui Westin is the staff and management's relaxed but keen attention to detail. They know they have a little piece of heaven and they are eager to share it.

As one of the Starwood hotels, the Maui Westin reflects its parent company's social and environmental values well and will very likely expand their efforts given that Starwood continues to win awards for its innovative programs across its many brands.

sculpture in Maui Westin gardens

Marriott's Maui Ocean Club

The Marriott on Maui is one of the largest resorts in Ka'anapali. The family oriented 'superpool' with its many waterfalls is certainly the star of the show, but the gardens are impressive as well. There are six large sections of the Marriott and each has its own breathtaking courtyard. Traditional tropical plants and trees flourish everywhere one looks, from palms to brightly colored bromeliads, and often take advantage of the many levels and angular architecture of the buildings. A koi pond greets you near the lobby and many Polynesian sculptures await around many garden corners as well. Marriott is well known for its community involvement and social responsibility programs, but recently they have become even more active in their environmental stewardship efforts with programs addressing climate change and service offerings such as green meetings and guest education programs. Marriott has also partnered with many nonprofit organizations to promote environmental awareness including Conservation International and Travelocity's 'Travel for Good' program.

Monday, June 30, 2008

University of Washington Medical Center

The UW Medical Center (UWMC) is an award-winning healthcare facility that is recognized as one of the top clinical, research, and educational medical centers in the world. As a teaching hospital, it benefits greatly from its association with several of the UWs schools including the Schools of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Psychology, Social Work, Public Health, etc. It also benefits greatly from one of the most creative and active landscape and horticultural staffs around. The UW campus as a whole is well known for its many and diverse gardens but the UCMC gardens are under the watchful eyes and busy hands of Mel Hearn, Gardener Lead for the part of campus in which UWMC is located. Having tended the UWMC grounds for many years he takes his job very seriously and realized the role it plays in the healing process of both patients and staff, something that Dr. Ed Walker, UWMC Medical Director recognizes as well.

The gardens at UWMC are truly extensive ranging from small gardens featuring brightly colored annuals to expansive artistically sculptured reflection ponds and courtyard gardens. There are even a few areas accessible only by ladder (though they can be viewed easily from patient rooms). UWMC has a formal healing garden but there are certainly many other informal such gardens scattered around the campus as well. The medical center itself has been expanded and remodeled countless times allowing for all sorts of secret gardens, courtyard groves, and areas to showcase exterior art and sculpture pieces. The new NBBJ-designed surgery pavilion has one of the most breathtaking vistas with a wall of windows than leans out over a small forested area. Containers are plentiful as well and offer striking displays in unexpected areas.

The gardens are clearly an important part of the healing environment at UWMC and although the horticultural staff is rarely considered part of the medical team in healthcare, it is easy to understand - especially after experiencing the gardens at UWMC - why many healthcare facilities are putting more thought and effort into the role of gardens in improving health outcomes.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa

Hyatt container garden
In the Ka'anapali resort area of West Maui, the Hyatt is known among visitors and locals as a true gem due in part to the beautiful gardens that include a several pond areas, many small gardens, and several enclosures featuring exotic birds ranging from African-crowned cranes and penguins to black swans and parrots. Throughout the grounds, Asian statues appear frequently with alluring microgardens surrounding them. A large inner courtyard has many sriking container species and small exhibits and the verticle architecture allows for a stunning display potted plants. Near the Hyatt is located near the ancient kalo (taro) beds and at the south end of the Hyatt grounds is a small stream named Hahakea and a site once was known as the cave of Pueo, or the “Owl Cave,” where legends say the guardian spirit owl resides and where long ago Hina hid her son Maui to avoid him being sacrificed by warriors. They Hyatt prides itself on diversity and has several programs to recruit and retain minority students and staff. On the environmental front, Global Hyatt Corporation recently named Brigitta Witt as Vice President, Environmental Affairs. In a January 2008 press release John Wallis, senior vice president of product and brand development, Global Hyatt Corporation had this to say:
"Brigitta will play a vital role at Hyatt, as a company we are committed to protecting our natural environment, to the comfort and well being of our guests and to respecting the communities in which we operate. Environmental sustainability will be at the core of everything that we do - from the design and construction of our hotels, to the products in our guest rooms, to the efficient use of natural resources. But the key to our success will be the 90,000 environmental ambassadors that we have around the world in our associates. As a global company, we are developing a consistent company vision to share best practices that build on the environmental programs that are already underway in many of our hotels around the world. As a passionate advocate for personal and corporate environmental responsibility, Brigitta will partner with all of our associates as we dedicate ourselves and Hyatt to an expanded journey towards global sustainability."

black swan with hibiscus

Hyatt vertical garden

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Whaler

The Whaler, located in the Ka'anapali resort area of West Maui, is perhaps the quintessential Hawaiian condominium. Built in 1976 it retains a vintage modern architecture while at the same time being completely modern inside and out. In ancient times, the village of Keka'a was located here with royal kano (taro) farms and important religious sites nearby. From the 1890s to 1918, the bustling Koko O Nä Moku Race Track stretched across the area. Today, The Whaler features expansive lawns and gardens bordered by low lava rock walls with many classic tropical flowers, impressive diverse palms, and brighly themed containers. A large koi pond, often missed by beach path walkers, anchors the central lawn. The phrase that comes to mind in considering what aspects of the management are reflected in the gardens is 'time-honored'. Many of The Whaler's condo owners have been around since the 70s so even though many owners and renters only visit once or a few times a year, one gets the sense of coming back home when walking the grounds. This feeling is complimented further by the staff who always have a 'its good to see you again' air about them, something you can never quite get if your staying at a hotel.