Guests enjoy commanding Carmel Valley views outside the Hacienda, a Spanish colonial-style gathering place for members of the Santa Lucia Preserve’s Ranch Club. Trees dot the landscape and hills shift from shades of gold to green as the seasons change, here in the heart of this 20,000-acre private community. The nonprofit Santa Lucia Conservancy permanently protects the diverse wildlife and ecological integrity of 18,000 of those acres.
Given the Preserve’s community-wide sustainability commitment, it’s no surprise that Ranch Club members once rallied to create an on-site organic garden. After the “Green Goddesses,” as the group called themselves, proposed the idea in 2014, crews transformed a former event lawn into a lush, one-acre plot of vegetables, fruit trees, herbs and ornamental blooms.
“We’ve got an amazing number of flowers and a wide range of varieties that you don’t typically see. We grow these super-cool little blueberry tomatoes, and we’ve also got 12-foot-tall sunflowers. It’s quite magical, and I think the diversity just blows folks away,” says Erin Aslanian, landscape and garden manager at the Santa Lucia Preserve.
The Hacienda Garden anchors farm-to-table dining experiences by the Ranch Club culinary team, including popular member dinners that pair garden-fresh elements with wine. In addition to dining here, Ranch Club members, their guests, and Preserve staffers use the space for quiet contemplation.
“If someone wants to take a walk in the garden or have a little picnic, that’s available,” Aslanian says.
The Preserve team handles garden planting and care, starting many vegetables from seed in an on-site greenhouse. As plants grow, the gardeners maintain a public list of what’s ready to pick at any given time. They also share harvest tips and supply clippers and produce bags for people ready to collect their own treats.
Whether it’s the height of the summer season or the shorter days of winter, garden guests will find an incredible bounty of fruits, vegetables and flowers.
“Our heirloom tomatoes are always popular. We probably plant over 200 tomatoes out here every year. The berries are great, too, and we try to get raspberry varieties that you can’t buy in-store. Some don’t take packaging and shipment well, but they’re great for eating and members can harvest them here,” Aslanian says.
Youngsters learn about the plants and pollinators during summer camp tours, and members sometimes bring their grandchildren by to chat with gardeners, as well.
“The berries and lizards might be the biggest hits on those tours,” Aslanian says. “We’re happy to walk the kids around and do a little picking and herb rubbing. We also get into the basics of organic farming, explaining how we don’t use synthetic fertilizer, pesticides or herbicides, and we talk about what those big words mean.”
Staffers encourage visitors of all ages to take inspiration from the regenerative, light-on-the-land methods employed in the garden. “I hope they find joy here, and snack on some good things. It’s just a beautiful, magical place,” Aslanian says.
That striking natural setting creates an elegant backdrop for weddings. Members and their sponsored guests can hold rehearsal dinners, ceremonies and receptions among the plants and petals.
“We string lights from wooden arbors, and on either side of you are sunflowers or corn or tomatoes or whatever is growing at the moment. If we do ceremonies toward the back of the garden, there is an aisle that’s mostly lined with lavender,” says Aubrey Yeakel, Santa Lucia Preserve director of catering and hospitality.
Hacienda Garden cocktail receptions accommodate up to 200 guests, and a long table extending down a wide garden pathway seats about 110 for dining.
“We pick fresh flower bundles, using what’s in season to garnish and decorate. For hors d’oeuvres and dinners, ingredients come from the garden as much as possible,” Yeakel says.
Event guests enjoy marveling at nature, and they’re sometimes treated to special surprises.
“At any given time, we might have horses roaming free behind the garden. So, when you’re dining, you’re not only looking at sunflowers and vegetables. You’re also looking at those horses running wild and the hills being backlit from the sunset. It’s a visually stunning location.”
To learn more about the Hacienda Garden and special events at the Santa Lucia Preserve, visit santaluciapreserve.com.