Scheme includes transporting 2,500 large native trees

Simon Rackham designs resort and club for Dominican Republic

Landscape architect Simon Rackham has been appointed landscape consultant for the first phase of the 980 ha Playa Grande Club and Reserve in the Dominican Republican. This includes an  Aman resort, as well as a beach club, 42  luxury villas, trails through the property's existing rainforest reserve, and a cliff-top golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., now being comprehensively upgraded by his son Rees.

Simon was appointed by Dolphin Capital Investors to work with UK architect Heah&Co, Barcelona-based dosAdos Landscape Designers, and local practice Solarium to recreate 12 ha of native, coastal rainforest in the Dominican Republic, as a setting for a new resort overlooking the Playa Grande beach.

The project includes sourcing, preparing and transplanting 2,500 large native trees and palms, between 6 and 15m tall, as well as half a million native shrubs, climbers, ground covers, grasses and epiphytes, many of which have never been used in a landscape project before. All the species being planted on the hotel site are native, and many are endemic to the area. Botanist Ricardo Garcia, author of the definitive study of the flora of Hispaniola, identified and named any unusual species, and was the final authority on whether or not any plant could be used. By the end, it is expected that almost 150 species will have been used, including rare and endangered species propagated from seed, collected locally, or provided by the Santo Domingo Botanic Gardens.

Total re-grading and terracing of the hotel site, to give every pavilion views through the forest to the sea while retaining total privacy, had left barren and inhospitable conditions, exposed to the tropical sun and salty Atlantic winds. To remedythis, planting of 50 species of large trees, to improve the microclimate for the lower layers of planting, began even while final shaping and building infrastructure was still going on.

A few of the signature species include: mara, Calophyllum calaba, Royal palm, Roystonea hispaniolana, Caoba (mahogany), Switzeriana mahoganii, Higo criollo, Ficus trigonata, roble (oak), Catalpa longissima, grayumbo, Cecropia schreberiana, and the magnificent emergent tree, ceiba, Ceiba pentandra. All these were used in the rainforest zone.

Plants used in the windy coastal zone include gri-gri, Bucida buceras, cana palm, Sabal casuarium, uva de playa, Coccoloba uverifera, frangipani, Plumeria tubercular, and imacigo, Bursera simeruba. This last has a smooth, silvery trunk, often sculpted by the wind. 

The National Environment Agency of the Dominican Republic has recognised the benefits of the scheme to the local ecosystem and has granted permits for transplanting and transporting trees and shrubs from farms along an 100-kilometre stretch of the north coast of the island.

Establishment and permanent irrigation water for the project come from a purpose-built freshwater lagoon, fed from an underground river flowing under the property through the coralline limestone of the coastal plateau.

The project is due to open in November.

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