From the sound of birdsong to the scent of roses, simply being in a garden can make you feel good. Which is why, for many hotels, having a well-designed outside space, however large or small, can be as important as the food served in the restaurant and the linens on the bed.
When Wendy Matheson and her husband Don bought Boath House in the Scottish Highlands 25 years ago, it came with 22 acres of grounds. “The house had been seriously neglected, so we spent six years on that; then we looked at the gardens”, she recalls. “There was a walled garden that dated back to the 16th century and some fantastic oak and lime trees, but the rest was just grass.” Following a post-graduate degree in landscape design, she spent the next ten years restoring the gardens.
Now, there’s an ornamental lake, a kitchen garden, herb garden (both of which supply the Michelin-star restaurant), an orchard and a wild flower meadow. “The garden is quite quirky and it has become a big draw”, says Matheson of those who come for afternoon tea and a stroll round. “We’re a small, family-run business and to survive you have to constantly think of ways to make yourself more attractive.”
The five-acre gardens are also an attraction at Howie’s HomeStay, just outside of Chiang Mai in Thailand. Designed by Jirachai Rengthong (whose partner, architect Bill Bensley, is behind the villas) they are a lush, tropical oasis. “My primary requests of Jirachai were that there is something in bloom all year round and plenty of water features”, says owner Howie Feldman. “This property was designed so that the structures really just have a roof for protection from the sun and rain; each wall is sliding glass so guests are directly in the midst of the garden. I know I breathe better surrounded by nature and I wanted those who stay here to feel the same.”
Understandably, gardens are a key part of the offering at wellness retreats such as Golden Door in California, where the setting is 600 acres of gardens, bamboo forests, lakes and meadows. There are Japanese gardens, fruit and vegetable gardens, floral and herb gardens, an organic citrus grove, an olive orchard and much more. Guests can even take sensory garden tours to smell the lavender and “mood-boosting lemon verbena”.
At Monastero Santa Rosa, which is built into a cliff on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, 20 per cent of what’s planted in the 21,500-square-foot gardens is either therapeutic or edible. “The Domenican order of nuns, who were the original residents, used herbs and flowers such as rosemary, Echinacea, mint and iris to create medicinal tinctures to sell the residents of the area”, explains owner Bianca Sharma of the plants that are now used by the in-house mixologist in herb-infused cocktails.
The garden plan was designed by Tiziano Giangiulio, whose family has historically worked in the Vatican gardens, and is split into several terraces. “The gardens are an extension to the hotel itself, full of places for guests to sit and read, look at the amazing views across the bay or, on the last terrace, swim in the infinity pool that seems to dangle from the edge of the cliff.”
London-based freelance journalist Emma Love specialises in writing about interiors, design and travel for titles such as Elle Decoration and Condé Nast Traveller, where she is a contributing editor. She also writes for publications such as the Financial Times and the Guardian.