Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel Creates Outdoor Learning Center

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By • Sep 16th, 2010 • Category: California Hot Spots

As part of Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment, The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel has partnered with ValleyCrest Landscape Companies to create an Outdoor Learning Center. The Center highlights a variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs, as well as a Green House and life-size game board.

“It was a natural fit to partner with ValleyCrest for our Outdoor Learning Center,” says Ritz-Carlton, General Manager Bruce Brainerd. “ValleyCrest shares our desire to become advocates of protecting and preserving the planet for future generations and, just like The Ritz-Carlton, part of their mission is to embrace environmental stewardship,” he added.

The organic garden features California pepper trees and fruits trees including lemon, orange, grapefruit, plum, peach, loquat and fig. Various lettuces, tomatoes, red and yellow peppers, squash, and watermelons are all planted in raised beds. Rosemary, thyme, basil, parsley, mint and chives are also highlighted in the garden. Native plants, such as Evergreen Currant, Douglas Iris, Chalk Dudleya, Coral Bells and California Wild Lilac, have been incorporated into the garden and grow beside plants that were used many years ago by the Native Americans that lived in the region. These native plants include White Sage, Cleveland Sage, California Sagebrush, Lemonade Sumac, Creeping Manzanita, Spiny Rush and Deergrass. As the fruits, vegetables and herbs mature, they will be incorporated into the menus in Raya, the resort’s new restaurant concept by Chef Richard Sandoval.

The greenhouse showcases the growth of native species of plants as well as organic, healthy vegetables that are used in the organic cooking activity, Ambassadors in the Kitchen. Participants discover that organic gardening can be easy and fun, and it yields produce that is the most local that you can get. The greenhouse also serves as a perfect example of how the “greenhouse effect” works, and how it relates to our global climate and the interconnections between human action and the preservation of our environment. Rain gutters on the Greenhouse collect moisture that is used to irrigate the garden and an underground cistern collects runoff that is used in the greenhouse and the garden. On the complimentary Garden Tour, guests have the opportunity to explore the garden and learn about the greenhouse.

The Outdoor Learning Center is incorporated into several of the Ambassadors of the Environment eco-excursions. Gardening Gurus allows guests to discover the real story about organic gardening, composting, and the wonderful world of plants. A Vegetation Vacation starts with a hike in the Dana Point Preserve where guests discover the native plants and animals of the Dana Point coastal region. Upon returning to the resort, guests enjoy a gardening experience in the organic garden. Ambassadors in the Kitchen offers a tour the organic garden where guests learn about the benefits of sustainable gardening and eating organic foods. Then they don their chef hat and learn about cooking with organic ingredients.

The Center’s life-size game board is a fun and interactive way to teach guests about sustainable living. The game is divided into nine sections – energy, water, biodiversity, food, waste, toxic waste, transportation, homes and buildings, and being an Ambassador of the Environment. Guests are the game pieces and they roll giant die to move forward. They read questions from the Sustainable Living cards and if they answer correctly, they advance in the game. At the conclusion of the game, participants discuss what they learned and talk about each section and how it relates to their life and sustainable living.

“ValleyCrest is proud to support efforts to protect and improve the environment through innovative organic gardens and sustainable landscape programs such as what The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel has created,” said Roger Zino, president of ValleyCrest Landscape Maintenance, which has taken care of the property’s landscape needs since 1997. “These eco-conscious efforts showcase fun and relevant ways to educate guests and incorporate more sustainable practices into their travel experiences.”

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