We have stopped to eat lunch at The Turquoise Room, a restaurant attached to the La Posada, a hotel in Winslow, Arizona. When I arrived at our table, my husband and my cousin were already digging into bowls of The Signature Soup of chef and owner John Sharpe. Truth be told: I am really here for the gardens.
The last of the railroad hotels, La Posada was designed by architect Mary Jane Colter for the Fred Harvey Company. But by the late 1950s the hotel, and with it the gardens, closed. Now, the entire landscape at La Posada is reopened to guests with seating throughout for meditating or watching the wildlife.
Although the plants are sufficiently labeled to alone take notes, today I am meeting Patrick Pynes, PhD to show me around. The gardening manager for La Posada is shielded from the cloudless blue sky by his Australian-styled hat, befitting his food gardener and beekeeper image, rather than his work as an Arizona University professor from Flagstaff.
In Your Bucket Because . . .
- Last of the great railroad hotels, La Posada and The Turquoise Room are along Route 66.
- You like restaurants that use food harvested from their own garden.
- Old and young adults who appreciate retro food in a historical location filled with art.
Vision of a Potager Garden
Pynes warns me, “The potager garden is only in its third growing season.” However, there is little left of the Bermuda grass and Siberian elms that had once spread over the property. Pynes is very happy with the transformation as the vision of Allen Affeldt, La Posada’s owner, was realized. The new potager garden is laid out in a parterre defined by red brick edgers and gravel pathways, which allow visitors to walk in or out from several directions. My rugged soled sandals prove enough to comfortably walk around; they even took me through the unforeseen muddy puddles.
I spied sunflowers blooming and, at first, I thought he was using their stalks instead of corn for a Three Sisters design. This bed is planted with a modified form, a compilation of scarlet runner beans and summer and pumpkin squash climbing up corn plants. But, the sunflowers are used this year as a companion crop, plants which are moved around the garden to replenish the soil.
I found the drifts of amaranth Hopi Red Dye (Amaranthus cruentus ‘Hopi Red Dye’) competing with sunflowers for the most colorful in the garden. Amaranth is a grain crop; here the seeds are used in the restaurant’s kitchen. This plant was originally used by the Hopi Native Americans in the southwest to make dye.
Wandering out past the low wall surrounding the potager garden, a ceramic blue fish caught my eye in the long narrow pond. Shrubs of rosemary decorate the pathway and are also used to flavor dishes on the menu. (Pynes later wrote to me that two pounds of basil were harvested for the restaurant, after I left.) The fruit off the heirloom quince trees, estimated at approximately 80 years old, are used to make chutney, which is often served in The Turquoise Room.
Sunken Garden a Respite for Hotel Guests
On the way to the Sunken Garden, Pynes and I pass wild shrub roses from which he has harvested rose hips and made jelly sold in Flagstaff. A wooden door opens into the Sunken Garden. The renovation, which began in 2001, meant to simulate a North African oasis of a by-gone era. Immediately we see Rocky Mountain bee plant (Cleome serrulatea), another plant for pollinators, especially for Pynes’ honey bees. Small honeysuckle flowers bloomed in May but the green foliage remaining helps frame the landscape.
The cool green grassy center, the mirage of a pool of water, is outlined with a gravel walkway. The knee-high ledges along the outer beds are new but the terra cotta roof tiles found on the property during construction have been put to good use, keeping the turf from encroaching into the planting beds. From the hotel’s interior, guests are able to walk out onto a raised patio. The supporting wall below holds a fountain trickling water.
For a brief moment, we talk about the weather patterns in this part of northern Arizona. Each of these gardens is placed inside the corners of the building’s right angles; they shelter the plants from the westerly winds off the Colorado Plateau, which brings in drier, saltier and the alternating extremes of cold or hot winds.
Historic La Posada
La Posada is part of a historic district in Winslow and has a place in the history of the southwest. At one time the current hotel street entrance was the backyard, now the back has a veranda, where small birds flutter about the feeders hung from rafters facing the railroad tracks.
The gardens were renovated from plans and pictures shot in the 1950s. The original orangerie was re-purposed into a hallway for art displays, as the original construction did not allow enough light for citrus trees the structure was built to overwinter. The original greenhouse at the hotel is gone but plans for new greenhouses, which would take advantage of the hotel’s steam heat, are on Pynes’ wish list.
On La Posada’s north side we find a cottonwood grove, estimated to be planted around the 1930s. Beyond, a larger food garden is where Pynes and his assistant test out new plant ideas. I am inquisitive enough to walk a rutted dirt path because Pynes is excited about his orchard of heirloom fruit trees: greengage plums, Santa Rosa plums, cherries, apples and peaches. I see nothing until I get beyond a maze of straw bales, and there they are, wind-blown but successfully producing fruit.
The gardens are grown organically for human and animal consumption. The gardens are a Certified Wildlife Habitat, a distinction awarded by the National Wildlife Federation, for providing food, water and protective cover to animals. At an elevation of 4950 feet above sea level, Winslow has a cold hardiness zone of seven, but with plenty of microclimates the environment gives Pynes unending opportunities to grow food.
Lunch in the Turquoise Room
I easily found my way from hotel and gardens to the restaurant and back. Long art-filled hallways and offerings of homemade dishes containing freshly harvested food easily connect the senses.
The wildlife put on a show for us while we finished our lunch. We all agreed that the Smoked Salmon Carpaccio Salad with sliced Columbia River Steelhead, sliced avocado, fresh asparagus, grape tomatoes and beets and Southwest Caesari Salad topped with shelled pumpkin and sunflower seeds sent us along well satisfied. It reminded me of the possibilities a food garden steps away allows through the swinging doors of a restaurant and hotel. As Pynes framed it, “Working with the restaurant is a major challenge, but it is an ongoing experiment begun 11 years ag
- The Turquoise Room serves lunch until approximately 2 p.m. and supper begins at 5 p.m.
- The gardens at La Posada in winter, on average, are covered with a foot of snow.
- The long range renovation plans of La Posada and the garden are ongoing.
- AMTRAK stops twice a day at La Posada.