How Their Gardens Grow

Like many spas, Stoweflake Mountain Resort in Stowe, VT, offers a labyrinth for meandering, meditating, and reflecting. But unlike other labyrinths, this guided pathway is made of blooming hedges, herbs, and flowers, all within a 10,000-square-foot garden.

"Our labyrinth garden is used not only as a grounding tool to balance the mind and soul, but also for aesthetic purposes—it looks beautiful," says spa director Jesse George. "And we use the herbs in our treatments. We cultivate lavender, spearmint, and thyme for aromatic foot soaks. Our spa chefs also use herbs such as hibiscus, mint, basil, and rosemary in our desserts, soups, and salads."

Cultivated and natural vegetation is found at Rancho La Puerta.
Cultivated and natural vegetation is found at Rancho La Puerta.

As people seek organic and natural options in everything from food to fashion, gardens are literally sprouting up at spas everywhere. The herbs and flowers enhance scrubs, wraps, and other treatments, and spa directors are also using the space in other pretty, palatable, and profitable ways. For example, more than 200 native Texas plants and fruit trees line the walking path leading to the LakeHouse Spa at Lake Austin Spa Resort in Austin, TX, and fresh-picked herbs are used in more than 100 treatments with names like Rosemary Sea Salt Scrub ($130, 50 minutes) and LakeHouse Lavender ($140, 50 minutes).

At the Golden Door in Escondido, CA, 400 citrus trees, 122 acres of avocado groves, and a three-acre garden with more than 75 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs provide ingredients for such treatments as the Golden Door Signature Citrus Blend Sea Salt Scrub with Avocado (45 minutes) and Warm Honey Wrap & Orange Blossom Milk Soak (45 minutes), which is made with honey from the spa's own beehives. The garden is also the inspiration for spa cuisine and organic cooking classes.

Head gardener Salvador Tinajero picks fresh vegetables and herbs.
Head gardener Salvador Tinajero picks fresh vegetables and herbs.

Glen Ross, spa director of The Spa at Little Dix Bay on Virgin Gorda, B.V.I., didn't have to plant a garden—Mother Nature did the work for him. "We harvest what we need from naturally growing tropical plants and trees," says Ross. "Aloe vera grows abundantly throughout the resort, so we pluck the succulent leaves and use the fresh chilled gel in treatments such as our Aloe Mint Glaze ($120, 50 minutes) to soothe the body after sun overexposure. We also handpick fresh young neem leaves from the trees, blend them, and use them in facial masks to clarify and calm the complexion."

A Potpourri of Ideas

Organic gardens have spa uses that extend far beyond incorporating them into treatments. At Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico, the spa distills geranium, lavender, lemon verbena, rose, and rosemary for essential oils, and the steam room is fragrant with rosemary and sage. Therapists also tie together bunches of herbs to make body brushes. Chamomile, ginger, lavender, and mint are just a few of the 57 herbs, vegetables, flowers, plants, and trees that grow in the 3,600-square-foot organic garden at Sea Spa at Loews Coronado Bay Resort (Coronado, CA). The sprigs, blossoms, and leaves are used in the spa's Herb Garden Body Treatment of the Month ($140, 50 minutes) as well as in herb-infused water, iced tea, and cookies. Walk in the Garden tours include cooking demos with wine tastings, plus fresh sprigs and recipes to take home. And if guests can't quite identify the pleasant taste and aroma in the crème brûlèe, they can just glance outside—it's lavender.

Therapists at Esencia's palapa-roofed organic Aroma Spa in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, follow ancient Yucatan traditions when they teach guests to respect the plants—even asking permission before cutting them. Guests take garden tours or classes to learn how to prepare herbal remedies, such as chamomile tea, and they practice custom-mixing their own herbal exfoliants.

The Spa at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn (Sonoma, CA) sets out patio tables around the herb garden so diners at the spa café can enjoy the serene setting, complete with a solar-powered water fountain. Therapists walk guests to the garden to show them the plants that were used in their treatment," says David Erlich, regional director of spa operations. "We provide guests garden clippings upon request. Scented geranium is many people's favorite."

The Spa at Little Dix Bay on Virgin Gorda, B.V.I., uses naturally growing plants and flowers in its treatments.
The Spa at Little Dix Bay on Virgin Gorda, B.V.I., uses naturally growing plants and flowers in its treatments.

Got Dirt?

No garden? No problem. Spa-goers can still hop on the fresh-and-organic bandwagon. The Spa at Rancho Bernardo Inn (San Diego) just launched Made Fresh Daily treatments using seasonal, organic products obtained from a nearby farm. The spa team creates a handmade spa treatment from the fresh ingredients, and the chefs pair the treatment with a seasonal gourmet snack. Guests also receive a special Spa to Go card with herb sprigs, a chef's recipe, and at-home spa treatment suggestion.

If you don't have a green thumb, just buy fresh potted herbs from your local farmer's market, and display them for your guests to see. At Lake Austin's LakeHouse Spa, a beautiful antique cart holds all of the different herbs with small signs identifying each. "Every guest walks past this cart as they go up the stairs to wait for their spa treatment, and they can feel and smell the herbs," says Lynne Vertrees, director of treatment development.

Even the smallest spas can set out terracotta pots of dwarf trees, flowering bushes, and herbs, giving a garden feel to the most urban setting. "In one 26-inch pot, you could grow rosemary, purple basil, mint, society garlic, two varieties of thyme, and lavender," says Krystal Mason, spa director at Sea Spa.

The Golden Door Spa at the Boulders in Carefree, AZ, hosts alfresco dinners that allow guests to enjoy the ambience and flavors of its garden.
The Golden Door Spa at the Boulders in Carefree, AZ, hosts alfresco dinners that allow guests to enjoy the ambience and flavors of its garden.

Selling Spearmint, Retailing Rosemary

An organic garden can also be a profit center. At the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort in Phoenix, basil, lavender, spearmint, and sweet marjoram are used in Revive Spa's signature massage oils, lotions, and body mists, which are packaged for retail and sold in the gift shop. "Guests love to walk through the beautiful garden and experience the garden products in their treatments. Then on their way out, they buy them to take home," says spa director Karen Cawley.

The Golden Door Spa at the Boulders in Carefree, AZ, is now developing soaps, perfumes, and other products—even wine—from the garden's bounty. The spa also holds special under-the-stars gastrological garden dinners using fresh-picked ingredients that are paired with organic wines. Additionally, an astrologer offers spiritual readings. "It's increasingly challenging for spas to create fresh experiences for their guests," says spa director Jennifer Wayland-Smith. "A garden helps us do that." Organic gardens and garden products offer the setting, inspiration, and ingredients to enhance the entire spa experience, and guests will gladly pay to try something new, fun, and fragrant. —Maryann Hammers

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