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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 


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 I adore plants. Plants are my muse ~ they are my paramour… I’m a garden artist; a nature lover, & horticulturist. I’m an author & writer. My passion for culture & beauty, along with my trait curiosity, brings you an authentic celebration of life. I’m a storyteller ~ weaving the artful gifts of horticulture, garden design, tablescape decor, floral design, cocktail culture, garden-to-glass recipes & their glamorous garnishes, homegrown edibles, food & drink; & cooking, to bring you my flair & what I’ve been told is an avid elan ~ as well as the stories from those who inspire me ~ to pursue an elegant, enduring, & joyful, entertaining lifestyle. It’s an honor & a privilege to do what you love.

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