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From tennis to terragon

Château Élan tills up the courts for organic gardens

POSTED: May 5, 2011 11:00 p.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

A row of collard greens is planted at an organic garden Thursday at Château Élan in Braselton.

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The Château Élan organic garden is a far cry from what it used to be — a clay tennis court.

"It wouldn't drain properly, so a layer of moss would always grow on it and we had to continually scrape it off," said Doug Rollins, Château Élan vice president of sales and marketing.

"After a while, we just stopped using it."
Aside from the usual moss growth, the tennis court went dormant, until staff saw it in a whole new light.

"I was scouting locations for our garden when I came down here and saw the court," Rollins said.

"It seemed like the perfect place for a garden and a really good way to recycle an old tennis court."

And with that thought, and a few tweaks, the area was reborn and given a new purpose.

"Last year was the first year for the garden. We had six (raised-bed garden boxes)," said Marc Suennemann, the resort's executive chef.

"They basically supplied herbs and vegetables for the culinary studio's cooking classes and demonstrations."

Today, there are 16 planting boxes in the resort's garden.

"We have collard greens, sweet potatoes, different varieties of tomatoes, zucchini, squash, eggplant and of course herbs," Suennemann said.

"We're looking into planting some berry bushes along the fence and adding some pole beans.

"As we go along, we'll see what works and what doesn't. The sweet potatoes will probably grow like crazy, so we're probably going to have to downsize those."

While they are taking a more laid-back wait-and-see approach to testing out which crops will grow best, the resort's staff of chefs were very deliberate in their decision to be pesticide-free.

"Everyone wants to be healthy, so they want to know where their food is coming from and if any pesticides were used. So we decided to go organic all of the way," Suennemann said.

"Besides us watering, it's basically nature doing all of the work.

"We did a lot of research and learned that there are different herbs that you can plant with different vegetables to keep bugs away. Dill is good for keeping bugs away from tomatoes and radishes and mint go together very well."

Even though they are a number of weeks off from harvesting their crops, the staff is already envisioning what they could do with their fresh produce.

"I see us being able to do more farm-to-table dining experiences, where the guests would come out and pick their food and then take it back to the culinary studio to prepare," Rollins said.

"And we'd like to take one of our restaurants all the way organic using our produce and organic (meat) from a local farm. It would probably be late summer or early fall before we are able to do that though."

Although their spring plantings are just a few days old, and suffering slightly from the recent chill, Suennemann is very optimistic about the garden's future.

"In another month, things will be very nice," he said.

"It's going to be lush and green — hopefully."

 



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