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T Q&A

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Details are important to Cory Martin, who has been horticultural manager at the Miraval Spa Resort for seven months now. He's overseeing a crew of five men as they give 25 acres a landscaping makeover, from hotel cliché to desert chic. Martin, 33, came to Miraval by way of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and he's a firm believer in choosing native species over trying to carpet the habitat with pansies. Want to find out more about Miraval or get answers to burning horticultural questions? Visit miravalresort.com.

You said something about there being a change at Miraval. What did you mean?

Well, it's gone through multiple changes of companies. They had a lot of the big, huge triple-A landscaping groundskeeper places (working there before the most recent change of ownership). Their typical way of caring for landscapes is to get guys out there with the hedge trimmers, and they trim everything into balls and squares. A lot of people, after going to all of these hotels ... tend to have kind of an idea that everything is supposed to look like that--squares, balls, really, really prim and proper trimming. And with my six years out at the Desert Museum, I kind of got into things looking natural, things growing the way they're supposed to grow. A lot of times--and this is my personal feeling--if you make things into squares and balls, it looks quite contrived. You never find a square or ball in a habitat out in nature, so to have that in an area seems a little too sterile.

So what did you do?

The first thing I did is basically (go) hands-off--didn't touch anything until like the last month or two. So everything started to grow out of these squares and balls. The first thing that people did is they just kind of flipped. They thought, "Well, these guys aren't doing what they're supposed to be doing; they're slacking off on their job." So it's a lot of placating these people so they understand that we're trying to switch gears, kind of blend Miraval into the surrounding environment--instead of making it look like some prim-and-proper, trimmed place out in the middle of the desert.

Is there a lot of grass at Miraval?

There's a little bit of grass and a lot of the typical vegetation you would find within hotels and resorts around town. That's the reason they brought me onto the staff; they're looking to get away from that, and looking to get more natives in there. ... They do a lot of education programs with nature that kind of tell people what's out there, people who are from different areas, like New York City, Seattle, Chicago--all these places that are real concrete jungles. ... It's definitely a change for them to see something like that, to see things growing kind of wild and see things how they're supposed to look--in my eye, at least. ... And they do a lot of classes, like medicines, botanical walks. They have a program called "Walk on Your Wild Side" where they teach you how to build fires and stuff like that.

Ha!

By planting more of these (desert species), we're helping people to get more in contact with nature, instead of having more of, "I go to Saguaro Park; I drive through; I take photos out of my window as I go, and I don't get out of my car." It encourages you to go out and get a hands-on experience, instead of a hands-off, scared-of-the-desert experience.

Do you have any tips for people who are trying to conserve water or other resources?

Go native, absolutely, either native or drought-tolerant. (Pick) a lot of things from the Mojave Desert, the Chihuahuan Desert: things that aren't too far from here, while keeping in mind their invasiveness. We even have our native plants that can be invasive in a landscape. Even though they're good, you still have to control that kind of stuff. It's definitely a balancing act. By planting things like cacti and succulents, you're planting things that don't require a lot of water usage, too. You can also plant native trees in the right spots around your house, such as a winter deciduous tree on the west side of your home. It's completely leafed out in the summertime, shading your house and reducing your electric bill. In the wintertime, it defoliates so the sun warms your house, and in turn, you use your heat less. Little things like that can really get you a long way.

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