Diane Koenig is proud of the craft that she has been honing for more than 15 years and claims that gardeners are artisans who make a key contribution to the overall guest experience with Beachcomber Resorts & Hotels.
“I consider myself a gardener before anything else and I don’t like being called otherwise.” These few words reflect just how passionate Diane Koenig is about her craft.
Hers has certainly been an unusual career path and she has always had a great love for plants. “I was dreaming of studying agronomy or horticulture, but after school, I found love, got married and had children,” she says. Once her two elder children had reached kindergarten age, she took up a job at the Casela animal park for a year before taking another break following the birth of her third child. “I built my career the other way round,” she says with a twinkle in her voice.
She returned to work at Trou aux Biches Beachcomber Golf Resort & Spa in 2001 and also at Victoria Beachcomber Resort & Spa the following year, shortly before the hotel suffered a fire that led to major renovations. Despite the tragic circumstances that created the opportunity, “It was my best renovation project and I realized that I loved this craft. I also helped in the renovation of the Royal Palm’s gardens.” The renovation of Trou aux Biches Beachcomber, which began in 2008, was “a wonderful experience which lasted four years.”
Diane has learned almost everything on the job and firmly believes that a garden is more than just an area for plants; it also reflect the Art of Beautiful that is invoked by all Beachcomber hotels. “The natural environment is something that strikes guests visiting Mauritius, it is something they can’t get anywhere else and a part of our identity as a tropical paradise. The gardens are ever-present across the guest experience: it is the first impression they get when they arrive at the entrance gate, they pass through the gardens on their way to the reception, and from the reception to their room. When they open their door in the morning, it’s once again he gardens that greet them,” she adds.
She attaches great importance to the fact that her craft is really about teamwork. “I have a great deal of respect for our teams because many of these people have been in the trade a lot longer than I have. They are also very knowledgeable and I have learned a lot from them – both about plants and in terms of human relations.”
The Group made it a point to reward the artisans working in its gardens by organising a team-building with the teams from its hotels located in the north of the island – Royal Palm Beachcomber Luxury, Mauricia Beachcomber Resort & Spa, Canonnier Beachcomber Golf Resort & Spa, Victoria Beachcomber and Trou Aux Biches Beachcomber – on Wednesday 7 June at Ile d’Ambre. The main purpose of this activity was to recognize the value of their craft. “We all have different responsibilities, but we all work for the gardens,” says Diane, who now oversees the gardens of these five properties with about a hundred staff, half of whom work at Trou aux Biches Beachcomber.
She also believes that gardening is a craft that deserves greater recognition. “It is a trade in its own right and things are not always easy – it rains at times, and the heat can be uncomfortable at other times, it’s a bit cold early in the morning and sometimes the humidity is overbearing – and the job requires a good physical condition. Gardening should be acknowledged for its true worth, and those men and women are artisans who make a key contribution to the overall guest experience with us.”
On the environmental front, she talks about Beachcomber’s long-standing commitment, which is in line with the criteria of the EarthCheck certification programme, whose objective is to significantly reduce the environmental impact of tourism. “We use recycled water from treatment plants in all our hotels and we also have a desalination plant at Trou aux Biches Beachcomber.”
Natural fertilizers like manure and compost are used in the gardens and products that are not harmful to nature are now more easily available, adds Diane. “In addition, we mostly choose plants that require a reduced amount of pesticides or effort, and are relatively resilient.” This also makes maintenance work much easier.
Moreover, endemic species such as the Crinum mauricianum, a flowering plant, some varieties of hibiscus and especially palm trees are increasingly being used. “We have planted a large number of endemic species during the renovation at Trou aux Biches Beachcomber and are planning to introduce markers to help identify these plants in our gardens.”
Her job is far from routine. “There is always something to do, the gardens are constantly changing and working with living organisms is what makes our craft different and beautiful. I like to give the impression of a peaceful and harmoniously designed garden, with a diversity of vistas and perspectives.”
Although she doesn’t identify herself with a particular plant, Diane cherishes and looks for “that little something which brings an unexpected touch of poetry and leaves us with the memory of a pleasant experience. The thing I love about gardens is the feelings that they conjure up in you.”