How to design a hotel garden

Big, open outdoor spaces have suddenly become a hot commodity in the hotel industry as social distancing measures render indoor spaces unwieldy and guests opt for meals and leisure in the safety of fresh air. Luke Christou looks at current trends in hotel garden design.

Some 38% of European consumers, and 45% globally, say they plan to travel within the next six months. This is welcome news for the hotel sector. However, guests will place an increased importance on health and safety practices, with travellers expecting private areas and public spaces to be set up for social distancing.

Providing access to open, outdoor space will make it easier for hotels to achieve this. According to the advice of various governments and health organisations, the risk of transmission outdoors is thought to be significantly lower, as droplets are dispersed more quickly by winds.

“Spacious hotel gardens will definitely play a role in choosing a hotel in times of Covid-19,” insists Bas Smets, landscape architecture and founder of Bureau Bas Smets. “As the public space becomes less secure, the safe space of a hotel garden becomes essential.”

Occupancy in many communal areas is likely to be significantly reduced as a result of social distancing measures, and, in some cases, spaces will remain closed entirely. In this case, gardens could play a significant role in allowing hotels to continue offering the experience that guests have come to expect by allowing hotels facilities to expand outdoors, providing additional seating for bars and restaurants and a safe venue for events and experiences to take place.

“Where our guests could previously relax in internal common areas, this is now more challenging,” Nic Wenn, managing director of Point A Hotels, confirms. “For hotels, opening up that outdoor facility where there tends to be natural air-flow, more spread-out seating and room to wander affords guests that on-site safe space without which they would have to leave the premises to find.”

The importance of outdoor spaces

While hotels like the Point A Liverpool Street, which has access to ample outdoor space given its inner city location, will be able to better serve guests during the pandemic, its gardens will also continue to attract guests even in the pandemic’s wake.

Hotels provide guests with a place to unwind and relax, offering access to new experiences alongside the comforts of home. Guests desire comfort, relaxation, and good food among other things.

Just providing access to such a snippet can really enhance our guests’ stay, their mood and their wellbeing.

Hoteliers are constantly working to improve, offering new experiences, new technologies, and new foods to enhance the guest experience.

Point A recognises how hotel gardens can help to offer guests many of the things they desire — “Whilst a hotel garden is rarely going to be more than just a sample of outdoor greenery, just providing access to such a snippet can really enhance our guests’ stay, their mood and their wellbeing,” Wenn says.

The garden at the Point A Liverpool Street hotel offers various points for guests to relax, from secluded spots to communal seating areas. Image: Point A Hotels

Greater potential

Paul Hensey, principal of horticulture design company Green Zone Design, believes that there is still significant room to improve hotel gardens, with the industry often neglecting the full potential of outdoor spaces.

“Hotels have evolved,” Hensey says. “What has lagged however is the acknowledgement that the external spaces can be as much a reason to visit as any other aspect of a hotel.”

“A hotel is a place where guests want to experience something different from what they know,” explains Smets. A hotel garden should reflect this, offering a landscape that transports guests into “a whole new world”.

This is what Smets attempted to do through the ‘Garden of Eden’ project at The Mandrake hotel, London.

External spaces can be as much a reason to visit as any other aspect of a hotel.

The award-winning outdoor space used more than five hundred climbing plants to surround the hotel’s courtyard with lush greenery that transports those in the courtyard into an evergreen environment, while providing privacy to those in the surrounding private rooms.

“The garden serves two purposes: it creates a beautiful place for guests to relax in, while providing privacy towards the rooms,” Smets explains.

With the soil hidden under vast wooden decking, which houses the hotel’s shack-style bar and restaurant, the project was able to create an impressive space for guests to enjoy without reducing the space required for alternative facilities.

The Mandrake project shows how hotels can create enticing outdoor environments, even without access to ample, unused green space.

The Mandrake’s courtyard is home to more than 500 climbing plants. Image: Baccus PR |Mandrake Hotel

Creating a hotel garden

When designing an outdoor area, the first step is to consider the space available and the purpose of the project.

“A hotel garden should first pay respect to its environment and context,” Hensey says. “A large country house might have a series of productive spaces, such as a kitchen garden, orchard or nuttery. However, functional spaces are probably more of a priority.”

Hensey recommends outside dining areas and the occasional table or sofa, which would allow the space to cater for events while allowing other guests to enjoy it. This - catering to all visitors - is an important part of designing outdoor spaces in hotels, as it will encourage guests to make use of the space.

“Every guest brings a unique combination of experiences and expectations,” Hensey says. “A garden needs firstly to encourage people to use and experience it.”

A guest might sit in a lounge for an hour, but they could linger in a garden for an afternoon.

From communal seating areas to mingle among other guests, to private spaces, or water to relax around, a well-designed garden should offer a variety of areas to explore. Spaces should also consider how guests are likely to use outdoor spaces and design accordingly, offering shaded spots for reading and more open spaces for sunseekers, for example.

“Gardens should be three dimensional with devices, structures and planting that facilitate shade, enclosure and separation,” Hensey explains.

According to Hensey, these various points of interest should also be partitioned to provide alternative routes and encourage further exploration of the space.

“A garden gives a destination. Something for guests to step into and lose themselves in, if only whilst traveling through it,” Hensey explains. “It [a garden] is sensual and emotive - things not usually attributed to hotel interiors… A guest might sit in a lounge for an hour, but they could linger in a garden for an afternoon.”

Taking the hotel outdoors

Well-designed gardens can make hotels look more attractive and subsequently entice guests through the door. However, outdoor spaces shouldn’t just serve the purpose of looking pretty, but also allowing guests to enjoy many of the amenities and experiences that a guest offers in the outdoors.

“The garden should be seen, not as an addition, but as an extension of the values of the hotel,” Hensey explains. “It can frame and elevate the architecture, whilst also extending the functionality and services beyond the building envelope.”

The garden should be seen, not as an addition, but as an extension of the values of the hotel.

Incorporating food and drink offerings on terraces, for example, would provide guests with a reason to venture outside. Meanwhile a constant staff presence to reassure guests, fulfil requests and answer questions, would encourage them to “linger and enjoy” the space.

This would help to provide the relaxation, health, and sense of escape that guests desire from a trip, but even more so in the midst of a pandemic.

“Just one thing that this unimaginable pandemic has taught us is how critical it is we embrace the natural world around us,” Wenn says. “Across almost every aspect of hospitality, the importance of a good outdoor space cannot be overstated.”