PGMA Winner: The Breakers

As a grounds-maintenance professional, you are bound to admire and appreciate the beautiful, well-maintained property of The Breakers. If you are looking for a posh vacation getaway for a romantic weekend or a family retreat, The Breakers will provide you with a pampered, relaxing experience you won't soon forget. And while you are there, you can observe its maintenance practices and enjoy its distinctive horticultural displays.

The Breakers has established itself as one of the finest hotels in the world. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this Palm Beach, Fla., landmark resort features two 18-hole golf courses, 21 tennis courts, one-half mile of private beach, a fitness center, spa services, seven restaurants, an extensive program of family and children's activities and a variety of water sports. The Breakers also features an exclusive collection of on-site signature boutiques.

Henry Morrison Flagler established the original hotel in 1896. The current building was erected in 1926 and is the third structure on the site. Fire destroyed the two previous buildings. Before celebrating its 100th anniversary in 1996, The Breakers underwent a 5-year, $75-million renovation. Often described as an Italian Renaissance palace by the sea, The Breakers recently reclaimed the Mobil Five-Star and AAA five-diamond awards.

Maintenance challenges The Breakers faces a unique set of challenges: extreme salt air, the property's age and constant, high-volume traffic. Even so, our 30-member grounds crew is committed to maintaining the grounds in the highest level and preserving that important "first impression" for our guests. Grounds Superintendent Chip Guile, a 17-year veteran of The Breakers, oversees the daily direction of the grounds and crew.

The Breakers' grounds consists of 140 acres on Palm Beach and the Atlantic Ocean. Palm Beach is located on the knuckle that protrudes out along the Eastern coast of the peninsula of Florida, closest to the Gulf Stream. The Breakers sit on the tip of that knuckle, which exposes it to high salinity, which is harsh on the landscaping.

Two years ago, we completed the installation of a 200-palm coconut grove. More than 3,000 palm trees of 30 different varieties grow on the property. Four of our palms are listed as historical specimens.

Trimming the hedges is a daunting but necessary task. Gardeners perform continuous shearing of more than 4.5 miles of old formal Australian pine hedge (Araucaria heterophylla), which borders the 140-acre property. The pines date back to the 1920s. They use 32-inch Little Wonder electric shears and a portable generator.

Golf courses and croquet For golf enthusiasts, The Breakers features two 18-hole golf courses. The Breaker's Ocean Golf Course is the oldest 18-hole golf course in Florida. The fairways are striped with Toro mid-weight 3500 mowers. Annual flowerbeds surround the putting green, as palms and 50-foot-high boxed-pine-tree rows border the golf holes.

During the winter, we overseed the bermudagrass putting greens with perennial ryegrass, which keeps the greens green in the winter when bermudagrass is dormant.

Croquet may seem like a game of the past, but at The Breakers, it is still a favorite pastime of our guests. Our equipment operator mows our United States Croquet Association regulation 328 bermudagrass croquet lawns in the early morning with a Toro triplex mower.

Theme gardens and courtyards In the last few years, we have been restoring historical areas around the grounds and establishing more functional space for people. Our gardeners have created garden walks with themes for our guest's enjoyment. * The Color Garden. Leading to the hotel on the south side is the color-garden walk, which covers 15,000 square feet, extends 500 feet and includes about 100 species of plants with vivid color. The garden consists of annual and perennial flowers, trellised vines, small flowering trees, plant-identification signage and park benches. The plant color blocks graduate from one shade to the next-yellow to orange, red to pink, purple to blue, and silver to white-all along the color scale. The yellow block features blooms of 'Golden Shrimp' coleus, Thryalis and Aechmea bromeliad. The vibrant plantings in the pink-to-purple transition block include pentas, petunias, oleanders and more. * The Herb Garden. Our most recent addition is a 3,000-square-foot herb garden, which contains 20 varieties of herbs, edible flowers, tomatoes and peppers accessible to our chefs and staff. A main walk for guests, this garden provides visual enjoyment and lets the guests watch as chefs pick their daily supply of fresh herbs. To screen the view of vehicles and protect the garden from salt drifts, a well-groomed border hedge surrounds the herb garden. * The Children's Secret Garden. With 1,200 feet of hedge maze, butterfly-attracting flowers and whimsical plant topiaries, the children's garden is a place designed for the youngsters who visit. However, you will often catch many enthusiastic adults exploring this magical garden too. * Plant Nursery. Our 15,000-square-foot on-site plant nursery houses backup stock for the hotel's interior plants as well as seasonal rotation of container and hanging baskets. An automated irrigation system keeps the nursery's plants properly watered. * Palm Courtyard. Gardeners plant Italian terra cotta pots with an array of color-mandevilla, marigold, crown of thorns and vinca-and strategically place them around the Italian Renaissance hand-carved stone fountain at the center of the Palm Courtyard. The floor of the courtyard is laid with terra cotta and Portuguese limestone. This is a high-traffic area adjacent to all retail shops and a gourmet coffee shop and, therefore, requires constant cleaning and a lot of attention. * Mediterranean Courtyard. This tropical paradise lures guests outside the hotel through tall glass doors to view its palms, plants, flowers and water display under the open sun. A sunken, lily-filled reflecting pool commands the center spot of the courtyard with a fountain as its centerpiece. This is a favorite place for outdoor weddings.

Color and care Grounds maintenance is a round-the-clock activity at The Breakers. Early in the morning, equipment operators sweep the entrance drive around the 1926 grand fountain with a Tennant street sweeper. As this is one of the first eye-catching displays by which we greet our guests, we use it to set the stage for the beautiful production they are about to experience-both indoors and out.

The winding entry walk is embraced with tropical palms and annual color such as screw pine (Pandanus), Phoenix roebelenii, and Malayan and date palms.

St. Augustinegrass carpets the entrance's portico lawn, which features 4,000 annuals. Because of the volume of repeat clientele at The Breakers, we never repeat our floral designs. Every time a repeat guest returns to The Breakers, they see "a different painting in a familiar frame." One season the design may include a combination of yellow canna lily, yellow 'Excitement' coleus, 'New Look' red and violet pentas and a 'Discovery' marigold border. The next season, we wipe the color palette clean and start fresh.

We plant more than 25,000 annuals each year. In the past 2 years, we have added more than 10,000 perennials to the grounds and plan to continue with more additions and improvements. We design the flower-beds 3 to 4 months in advance of each season. Much thought is given to continuity from bed to bed, and we keep color schemes consistent by using a variety of plants. Granted, these plantings require extensive advance coordination, but for The Breakers nothing less will do.

Danny Miller is the director of golf and grounds at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla.

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