OAK BROOK, ILL.—The Hilton Chicago/Oak Brook Hills Resort & Conference Center recently unveiled its Horticultural Gallery. Spearheaded by a new full-time horticulturalist, Karen Paquin, the sustainable ecology program officially kicked off on Earth Day, April 22. Unlike a typical art gallery, the Horticultural Gallery at Oak Brook Hills, an IACC Green Star/Gold Status property, presents a cutting-edge array of eco-friendly initiatives happening outdoors in real time, headlined by the resort’s groundbreaking beekeeping program. The Horticultural Gallery is open to everyone to enjoy and tour—from individual guests to client groups. Paquin, who has been trailblazing in San Francisco’s progressive horticulture scene for the last 25 years, wants visitors to be “blown away” by what’s happening at Oak Brook Hills.
“It’s not just about plants,” said Paquin. “It’s about the habitat and ecology of the plants coming together. My goal is for guests to walk away with a new aesthetic for not only what’s beautiful, but also what’s in balance with our native region.”
“Gardening is much more than a hobby to many,” added Oak Brook Hills’ General Manager Stefan Mühle, who spent more than a decade conceptualizing, developing, and managing green hotels in San Francisco while chairing the Sustainability Committee for the City’s Hotel Council. “We feel there’s a huge demand for learning more about techniques and approaches that have the potential to result in competitive and fiscal advantages while protecting the natural environment and respecting the local communities in which we operate.”
Many Horticultural Gallery Highlights
The Horticultural Gallery at Oak Brook Hills began with the advent of spring, and will escalate as the season continues. Highlights include:
• Beekeeping Program—Up to one million honeybees living and working on resort grounds. Managing the property’s hives is Executive Chef Sean Patrick Curry (a.k.a. The “Beekeeper Chef”), who will source honey for hotel culinary recipes and beeswax for natural hotel products, while the bees themselves will help pollinate the Foodscaping and Chefs gardens.
• “Foodscaping” Garden—An educational garden highlighting a new type of edible landscaping using vegetables in the landscape in an ornamental as well as a functional way.
• Chefs Garden—True chef’s sourcing gardens that incorporate vegetables and herbs specifically for Chef Sean Patrick Curry’s kitchen at the resort which churns out “modern farm cuisine.”
• Drink/Cocktail Garden—A garden containing herbs specific to infusions and cocktails for the hotel bar. Part of this plan also involves the planting of elderberry bushes for a signature blend of house made signature teas.
• Monarch Butterfly Waystation—By planting milkweeds and nectar source plants, Oak Brook Hills will create a butterfly habitat that promotes the migration of the Illinois State insect. Interpretive signage will explain the importance of these butterfly gardens.
• Audubon education—Members of Oak Brook Hills’ horticultural and grounds team host local middle schools, educating students by discussing green initiatives and joining together for Audubon projects such as installing special landscaped areas.
• Prairie restoration, or prairie “reconciliation,” as Paquin puts it.—The development of the native areas on the golf course will take them back to the way they used to be.
• Native bird boxes—Screech owl boxes, hawk platforms, bluebird boxes and more will be constructed and introduced around the estate to encourage native bird sightings and protected habitat.
• 5,000-plus bulbs planted around the property.—After blooming in April, bulbs will be dug up and transplanted into native/rough areas around the property to naturalize.
• Planting of fruit trees. Varieties include Chicago hardy fig, persimmon, pear and cherry. The harvest will be used in the resort’s culinary and bar recipes.
• Continual division and relocation of existing perennials around the property.—By making the perennial beds the best they can be, Paquin is helping to create a new esthetic in blooming gardens.