If there’s one type of design rarely known for being unique, it’s hotel landscaping. But JW Marriott and Studio Lily Kwong have recently partnered to create a gorgeous trio of custom hotel gardens at JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort & Spa, and JW Marriott Essex House New York.
These gardens are not only beautiful to look at and a great way for guests to connect with nature but also a true boon to the local chefs who use the various herbs grown in their recipes. Kwong’s team even consulted with the chefs to determine what herbs would be best to grow in each location. For example, Executive Chef Achilles Poliviou of the JW Marriott Essex House New York requested apple mint because it’s an herb indigenous to the Northeast. “We use it in our baking here at the hotel. We also have parsley, rosemary, and thyme,” he says. “This partnership with Studio Lilly Kwong combines wellness and an ambiance of serenity to the hotels. The chefs can also incorporate menu items featuring the ingredients grown.”
One Design Does Not Fit All
This collaboration allowed Kwong and her team to create three spaces as distinct as their surrounding landscapes because each region has a different climate. “We were primarily inspired by the immediate surrounding ecology and environment of each of the three locations,” reveals the famed landscape artist, “Our celebration of native plants and their enormous ecological benefits is most tangible in Desert Springs garden, where we drew from the vast and expansive desert landscape. The Essex House indoor garden paid homage in miniature to the Central Park landscape directly across the street from the property. The Bonnet Creek chef’s garden featured a handful of Florida-grown citrus trees and native pollinator flowers.”
The Essex House
The Essex House is one of JW Marriott’s most legendary and extraordinary properties. This isn’t just because it’s in New York and faces Central Park, but also because the art deco-style building is nearly a century old. It is also the only property to feature an indoor garden.
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Kwong collaborated with Limen Studio on creating a custom-built cabinet system to house a terrarium ecosystem. She tells me, “The cabinet is built using domestic cherry wood with a shou sugi ban finish, which is an ancient Japanese architectural technique used to preserve wood by charring the surfaces with a hot flame. It is an extremely sustainable alternative to stains and sealants and leaves the wood naturally resistant to insect and moisture damage.”
This gorgeous terrarium is located in the front of the grand lobby between two windows, across the street from Central Park. It is the perfect spot for guests and staff to enjoy this welcome addition. “The terrarium forms pay homage to the renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted [who designed Central Park] and was inspired by his signature rolling topography, bold stonework, and naturalistic plantings. Its creation felt like a joyful experiment,” explains Kwong.
Located in Orlando, the JW Marriott Bonnet Creek has a completely different climate and vibe than the other two hotels. This property presented an opportunity to create something special that reflected the natural gifts of the Sunshine State. “My team and I created a sumptuous, artfully designed staple kitchen herb garden that features various flowering plants to attract pollinators and add color to the landscape. Herbs were selected for their aromatic power and potent symbolism. Across history and cultures, humans have cherished the language of herbs and flowers,” says Kwong.
This design also embraced the wellness aspect of the project as a whole. “Many of the plants in this garden were selected for their healing properties, which we are craving as a society now more than ever. For example, rosemary signifies love and remembrance, and thyme courage and strength.”
All the way on the other side of the country is the JW Marriott Desert Springs. Palm Desert not only has a very particular climate but also attracts many locals from the Southern California area. It was also essential to create a garden that could thrive given the state’s frequent water restrictions. “We built a California native and edible-forward garden that features all drought-resistant species. [There are] four varieties of native sages, prickly pear cactus, and native flowering species to attract pollinators.”
Like Bonnet Creek, wellness also influenced this property’s design. “Desert native plants embody resiliency— adapting to survive severe climate conditions, and many species hold potent healing properties. The layout design of the garden also offers abundant opportunities for hotel programming dedicated to wellness – think guided meditations, still-life painting classes, picnic by the water, and educational walk-throughs by chefs or garden staff,” explains Kwong.
Kwong and Marriott have created living things of beauty that not only elevate the guest experience but also re-image the farm-to-table concept in a micro way that’s sure to inspire guests and visitors alike.