Hotel grounds and gardens

Why are hotel grounds and gardens important?

  • The hotel garden is where guests and visitors can relax, take exercise, dine and be entertained, as well as being a potential resource for produce and flowers. It can also provide a habitat for wildlife, shade and cool in hot climates, protection from wind and, in cities, a haven from traffic fumes and dust.
  • The grounds need to accommodate convenient areas for guest parking, for deliveries and collections and the storage of equipment. These need to be incorporated thoughtfully into the landscape.
  • Visitors and guests form their first (and often lasting) impression of the quality of your hotel establishment from the exterior of the building and the grounds in which it is set. An attractive, clean and wellmaintained appearance is a reassuring indicator of commitment to high standards within. Creatively designed, ‘inspirational’ gardens can influence whether a guest returns and/or recommends the hotel to others.
  • Using a sustainable approach for the planning and maintenance of gardens and grounds will benefit wildlife, reduce your costs and show your commitment to operating responsibly to guests and visitors.

What are the issues?

In order to take a more sustainable approach to the design and operation of hotel grounds and gardens, the key issues to consider are:

1. Minimising use of water (especially in areas where water is scarce) through water conservation practices and careful plant selection.

2. Using techniques to capture, re-use and recycle water.

3. Minimising energy use whilst providing a safe, comfortable and attractive amenity.

4. Using natural and environmentally preferable alternatives to pesticides and herbicides to control
pests and weeds, and, where chemicals are unavoidable, using them responsibly and safely.

5. Cultivating produce for the restaurant and flowers for cutting.

6. Taking actions that will encourage and benefit wildlife.

7. Other sustainable landscaping design and planting principles.

Using less water

Even in locations where water is plentiful, it makes financial sense not to waste it.

a. When selecting plants give careful thought to their water requirements, matching them to the local climate, for example using arid and semi-arid plants in a desert environment. Avoid laying lawns where water is scarce, and choose the type of grass carefully – some are much better suited to hotter and drier climates. You can use ground cover or ‘prostrate’ plants which form a carpet, such as sedums, as an alternative to laying turf.

b. A well-designed and controlled irrigation system will help plants to flourish and save water by drip-feeding only as it is needed. Irrigation can also be timed for early in the morning and in the evening to avoid evaporation during the heat of the day.

c. Do not use hoses for watering plants and avoid the use of sprinklers on lawns if possible.

d. Avoid using high pressure jets to clean paving. Brushing first, then rinsing with a hose on a low
setting or using a watering can is often sufficient.

e. Using your own organic compost will add nutrients and help retain moisture in the soil by improving its structure. There are also special polymers which can be added to the soil mix to help retain moisture.

f. Plastic, glazed or painted pots retain water better than clay pots as they are less porous.

g. Planters and hanging baskets can be lined with an impermeable or semi-permeable layer to cut down moisture loss.

h. Weed regularly as weeds compete with other plants for water, light and nutrients.

i. If a water feature is essential, consider how quickly the water will evaporate – a low level ‘trickle’ feature will use less water than a large fountain, especially in hot climates.

Reusing and recycling water

Various systems to recover and recycle water are available requiring different levels of investment.

a. Plants generally prefer rainwater to treated water from the tap. Rainwater harvesting techniques can be used to divert rainwater from roofs and gutters and capture it in underground storage tanks or water butts. These systems need not be particularly sophisticated or expensive.

b. Rather than using hard surfaces for parking areas, use permeable surfaces such as shingle, paving with large spaces filled with small stones or ‘grasscrete’ which can be laid over a cellular water collection system. Even using permeable surfacing without collection enables the water to find its way back into underground aquifers and reduces the likelihood of localised flooding in heavy rain.

c. Capture backwash water from the swimming pool and reuse it to clean paving etc.

d. Grey water recycling systems are a secondary system of plumbing that divert grey water from baths and sinks and use it for toilet flushing or, following treatment, for irrigation. They are best installed as part of the original design as they can be quite expensive and complicated to retrofit, especially in older hotels.

e. A state of the art waste water treatment plant will enable you to use treated water from toilets in the gardens. Seek professional advice before installing a new system as it needs to be appropriate to your location and occupancy levels. Treatment plants need to be carefully positioned in relation to prevailing winds and screened from view. In some countries the sludge from the treatment plant is dried and used as fertiliser within the hotel gardens with certain safeguards, but in others it is considered hazardous waste and must be disposed of accordingly. Strict adherence to World Health Organisation waste water quality standards is advised.

f. Natural reed beds can be used for purification. With appropriate purification and treatment, water can be recycled on site several times. Such approaches can help to reduce the costs of both buying in water and its disposal, particularly in areas where water is scarce and therefore expensive.

The Radisson SAS Resort, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

Ensuring that there is a sufficient water supply is a challenge for the Radisson SAS Resort, Sharjah, with its large gardens and the hot climate in the United Arab Emirates. Since January 2003, the resort has increased the amount of water that it reuses to 75 per cent. All the grey water from the hotel rooms, public areas, kitchen and restaurants is filtered and then pumped into giant tanks holding 14,000 gallons of water. The hotel's green team uses the contents of these tanks twice every day.

Another water holding device has been constructed to collect all the rain run-off water from drains as well as the backwash water from the pool and surrounding area, which is then sent to the recycling tanks for use in the gardens. The recycled water irrigates half of all the garden and grassed areas in the grounds.

Guy Chidiac tel: +971 6 565 7777

Minimising energy use

Most of the energy used in the grounds and gardens is likely to be in the form of electrical energy (for lighting) and fuels (to power machinery such as lawn mowers or generators).

a. Where possible use solar lighting to delineate pathways, and illuminate trees and buildings. If stronger light levels are required, for example in parking areas, use the most energy-efficient and
environmentally preferable options available.

b. Solid state lighting uses chip technology to produce light rather than traditional filament light or
fluorescent light and is commonly used in light emitting diode (LED) lighting. This technology is
developing rapidly and has several advantages over incandescent and fluorescent lighting: it provides high brightness and efficiency; it can withstand variations in temperature; it has a low running temperature and a very long life (8-10 years on average). LED lights can also produce light in a wide variety of colours which is excellent for creating dramatic effects. Products are available for use in ponds and water features. Unlike fluorescent and sodium lights, LEDs light up immediately and do not contain mercury or other toxic substances that pose a hazard in disposal.

c. Fit daylight sensors to exterior lighting so that it switches off automatically. Motion detectors will also help reduce lighting energy use in areas that are not frequently used at night.

d. Avoid the use of patio space heaters as much of the heat escapes to atmosphere – they can emit more carbon dioxide (CO2) in a year than a family car. If it is necessary to warm outdoor dining areas, consider the use of wood-burning chimneys, braziers, or electric heaters which emit less CO2 and focus the heat more directly.

e. Use electric vehicles to transport guests around the resort. Hotel/airport shuttle vehicles should either be electric or hybrid, or should run on biogas or biofuel.

Controlling pests and weeds

Good environmental practice in pest, weed, bacteria and fungal control involves strict attention to basic sanitation and good housekeeping, combined with other physical and biological measures of elimination or control. Chemical control in the form of pesticides and herbicides should be a last resort.

a. The type and number of unwanted pests and bugs will depend on your geographical location and local conditions. For example, hotels in the tropics are more likely to have a problem with ants and mosquitoes whereas hotels in urban locations may have trouble with rodents (see table 1 for environmentally preferable ways of managing common pests, including the use of beneficial predators).

b. Weeds are plants (even cultivated ones) that grow where they are not wanted. Many species are not readily killed by mechanical cutting; they recover quickly and continue to grow. Some grow rapidly during times when desirable plants are dormant, and will spread and shade out desirable species. Checking regularly for plants that are out of control is better than having to manage them through the use of herbicides.

c. Pest and weed control chemicals can pose various environmental hazards. Some kill only the target organisms, others will kill a range of different life forms if used indiscriminately. Once employed, the chemicals may take considerable time to break down and become inactive. They may also become more concentrated as they pass up the food chain. Short term exposure to pesticides and herbicides can cause health problems in humans and other animals, including eye, lung, throat and skin irritation, dermatitis and poisoning. Certain compounds can also have long-term effects, including cancers and birth defects. Because they ‘persist’, meaning that residues may build up in our food and water supplies for considerable periods, environmental problems and damage to other life forms may occur long after the initial application.
Recycled water at the Radisson SAS

d. There are many laws governing the use of substances used to control pests and you should check which apply to your country. Internationally, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants bans the use of certain pesticides and insecticides. If you must use chemicals for pest and weed control:

e. Pesticides, larvicides, insecticides and rodenticides are used to combat insect and other animal
infestations; herbicides are used to control weeds and other unwanted plants whilst bactericides,
sterilants, biocides and fungicides are used to kill bacteria and moulds.

f. Consider using a professional contractor for certain phases of grounds maintenance (fertilizing, chemical weed control, etc.) as this avoids having to store a range of chemicals on site.

g. Review the chemicals you are using to assess whether there are safer alternatives. For example, pyrethrum is a natural insecticide obtained by extraction from chrysanthemum flowers and is more readily broken down than some other types of pesticide.

h. Before deploying chemicals, always ask the question ‘What is the least toxic and the least persistent pesticide/herbicide available to perform the task?’

i. Use a selective chemical that has the least effect on non-target species and treat only the area affected.

j. Schedule treatments at the right time in the life cycle so that one or the minimum number of applications should suffice.

k. Make sure that any staff are properly trained in health and safety measures and the protection
measures required for safe application. Provide them with the necessary equipment and protective
clothing and ensure sufficient spares are available.

l. Vendors and suppliers should provide current data sheets for all chemicals and materials supplied. They should also either be able to take back unused or surplus pesticides or recommend a suitable agent through which they can be disposed.

m. Store chemicals in a secure, well-ventilated building away from other buildings and away from watercourses.

n. Make sure all chemicals are clearly labelled and that the manufacturer’s instructions are kept with them. Do not transport them in vehicles used for carrying people or food.

o. First-aid provision must be made available, together with data sheets on all the products in the store and the chemical safety precautions. Details of any statutory requirements and emergency telephone numbers should be available and updated regularly. Display first aid information on the wall.

p. The area of application should be clearly marked. Neighbours, guests, visitors and others in the area should be made aware of the spraying programme and kept away from the immediate area.

q. Equipment should be frequently checked and properly maintained, both for health and safety reasons and to minimise spray drift.

r. Only spray when the wind speed is nil or negligible.

s. Anyone handling toxic chemicals should do so for the minimum possible time, should never work alone and must ensure that the work area is well-ventilated. Users should wear protective clothing, gloves and headgear including a safety-approved respirator, and should change clothing and wash thoroughly with soap and water after applying pest control chemicals.

t. Users should stop work if they are feeling ill and seek medical advice.

u. When using a ‘rucksack’ type sprayer, liquid should not be allowed to spill onto the user's back or clothing. Ensure that pump seals and hand triggers are regularly checked, and replaced as soon as there is any sign of deterioration or seepage. Always avoid overfilling.

v. Always follow the manufacturers' and/or suppliers' instructions when disposing of empty containers.

Table 1: Low environmental impact management of garden pests

Pest Treatment
 Ants Kill any ants you see and work back along the trail. If the source is in paving or concrete, pour boiling water into the cracks. Low toxic baits can be put in the ant path, and sticky barriers around tree trunks. Prune branches close to buildings to remove any ‘bridges’ that ants can cross. Boric acid and diatomaceous earth (DE), a chalk-like powder made from algae, are low-toxic treatments against ants
 Aphids (blackfly and greenfly) Purchase larvae of natural predators such as ladybirds (ladybugs) and green lacewings. Plants with hollow stems such as fennel should be deadheaded and left in situ or stacked in a sheltered place for ladybirds to hibernate in over winter
 Caterpillars If possible, leave them to develop into butterflies or moths! If there are too many to pick off the plants and destroy physically and you must eradicate them, use a proprietary branded bacterial insecticide derived from natural ingredients. Check that it does not remain in the environment for long. If you have several similar plants being eaten, an option is to move a few caterpillars across to one ‘sacrificial’ plant in an area that won’t be noticed and spray the others
 Flies Reproduce mainly in waste and manure. Collection of waste and residues must therefore take place at least twice a week, since the reproductive cycle, from egg, to larva, to pupa and adult fly is around one week. Use mesh screens on doors and windows to keep flies outside and ultra-violet (UV) machines inside and outside the building. Spray with pyrethrum, a natural insecticide made from Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium
 Mites & whitefly Release predatory mites into the area or use a non-chemical product containing cayenne pepper extract. The extract is blended with wax enabling you to coat the plants with an invisible barrier against insect and animal pests and is effective for two weeks or more. ‘Sticky strips’ impregnated with similar products are also effective
 Mosquitoes Since they lay their eggs in stagnant water, you should not leave flowerpot saucers, buckets, sheeting or other containers outside collecting water. Clear debris from gutters and drains, repair leaking taps and ensure that air conditioning units and sewage systems are working properly. Fill ponds with mosquito-eating fish. Bats eat mosquitoes and can be attracted to the garden by planting fruit trees. Use repellents such as candles containing citronella. Plant pelargonium citrosa, (citrosa geraniums) alongside paths – they release a sharp, lemony odour when they are brushed against that is unpleasant to mosquitoes. Rosemary, basil,spearmint, fennel, lemon thyme, lavender, catnip and marigolds are also said to repel them. In severe cases (and as a last resort), treat areas of water with an insecticide to kill the larvae, checking first that it will not harm other life forms
 Rodents Rats and mice can cause substantial damage and transmit disease. Mice can squeeze through holes less than 1cm in diameter so it is important to block up any openings in building foundations and walls. Store foodin vermin-proof areas and ensure that any waste food being collected for disposal is in a secure bin or container with a lid, not just in plastic bags. Composting bins should be on a concrete or stone base and be rodent proof. Unless the problem is very serious you can use traditional snap traps (which kill instantly). Use sticky bait such as peanut butter or chocolate. Poison bait should only be used by a specialist contractor and every precaution taken to avoid contamination with food and water.
 Slugs and snails Non-chemical solutions include putting salt or sharp shingle around vulnerable plants, drowning the pests in beer or throwing them over the garden wall! The use of an elemental copper band on adhesive tape will repel them. If buying slug or snail ‘pellets’ ensure these will not harm birds and other creatures that feed on them
 Wasps Make a simple trap using beer or a solution of jam or honey with water in a jam jar. Some people can suffer a severe allergic reaction to wasp stings so if the problem persists, branded traps can be purchased containing specially formulated attractant baits

Growing your own produce

You will save money, cut out ‘food miles’ and be able to highlight seasonal produce on the menu if you grow some or all of your own produce. This is also likely to prove popular with guests.

a. Identify areas that can be made available for the cultivation of herbs, vegetables and fruit, for example raised beds or a place to erect a greenhouse.

b. Dedicate an area for a cutting garden, where you can grow flowers for arrangements inside the hotel. This will also help to reduce your florist’s bill.

c. Designate an area for composting your organic waste such as vegetable and fruit peelings, eggshells, used coffee grounds and tea bags. This can be used as a soil improver and as mulch for plants.

d. Compost your grass clippings and bag-up any fallen leaves. These will all rot down and can be reused in the gardens.

Encouraging wildlife

a. Encouraging natural predators such as ladybirds (ladybugs) and green lacewings which eat aphids will in turn bring other species into the garden such as butterflies and birds that feed on the predators.

b. Plant species such as buddleia (the ‘butterfly bush’), honeysuckle, rock rose, penstemon and thyme to attract butterflies and bees.

c. Erect bird feeders and bird boxes to encourage birds.

d. Bats are perfect mosquito catchers and one bat can eat up to 1000 mosquitoes an hour. Many bats in tropical areas are fruit eaters so planting banana, fig, date, avocado and mango trees will both encourage them and provide fruit for the restaurant. Erect bat boxes to encourage them to stay.

e. A good compost heap will attract worms and many different insects.

f. Try to leave a part of the garden untouched, with twigs, leaves and decaying logs to provide a habitat for beetles and other insects and those who feed on them.

Planning, design and management

Design and management

a. Good landscaping will help to attract and retain clientele. Provide paths for walking or jogging, so that guests can take exercise without needing to leave the premises. Aim to provide an amenity and resource rather than an expensive maintenance problem.

b. In many countries, it is a legal requirement to provide suitable access for people with physical disabilities, such as larger parking slots for the disabled and ramps for wheelchair users. These issues need to be taken into account when considering the layout of the grounds. Thoughtful planting of scented flowers and plants will enable guests and visitors with visual impairment to enjoy the gardens.

c. When landscaping, retain established features such as mature trees, hedges and meadows where possible. If a tree must be removed, plant at least one new tree for every one cut down, either on-site or in a nearby park or amenity area.

d. Landscape architects can help not only to suggest a landscape scheme to meet your requirements, but also to specify plants that will thrive with minimum attention in the local climatic and soil conditions. Check their experience and qualifications, and seek evidence of their capabilities from colleagues, professional institutes or trade associations.

e. Take into account future growth, both above and below ground, together with seasonal issues such as falling leaves, fruit and seed pods.

f. Draw up a maintenance schedule for the gardener or gardening contractor.

g. Ponds, pools, lakes, streams, waterfalls and fountains can be attractive and provide relaxation and distraction for guests. However, thought must be given to their safety, especially where children might be attracted to them. They may also lure wildlife, and the implications (both positive and negative) should also be considered.

h. Ponds may need a deep area to maintain water and oxygen levels in dry periods, and should be sited away from trees and shrubs.


a. Careful attention to planting can, when integrated into a building design project, help to provide
natural protection from the elements. For example, trees and shrubs can, be used to shield the building from prevailing winds or provide shade from excessive sunlight.

b. Hedges and hedgerows are preferable to fencing as they provide a habitat, wildlife corridor and source of food for birds and other wildlife. Once established, they also provide protection from intruders.

c. Native species which are well adapted to local conditions generally fare better than imported ones, and support more wildlife. When planting, small groups of trees are preferable to widely-spaced individual specimens.

d. Lawns require constant attention (feeding, mowing, treating, scarifying) and are best limited to areas adjacent to the building or bordering pathways.

e. In temperate areas choose plants and shrubs that will give year-round colour and interest. Other areas can benefit from being 'naturally landscaped' with indigenous and wild flowers.

f. For hotels in city centre locations and without extensive grounds, imaginative planting of troughs,
window boxes and hanging baskets can be effective. Many hotels also find space on the roof to grow herbs for culinary use.

Resources and Further Reading:

Control of Pesticides (Amendment) Regulations 1997

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH)

Easy steps to control health risks from chemicals

Environmental Management for Hotels

Food and Environment Protection Act

Guidelines for Sustainable Hotel Siting, Design and Construction

Pesticides - Use them Safely

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPS)

Water Quality: Guidelines, Standards and Health

More Information:

Building Research Establishment (BRE)

Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT)

Energy Savings Trust

US Environmental Protection Agency

US Green Building Council

UK Health and Safety Executive

US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

US Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)

World Health Organization

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