Whether you were excited for it or bracing for it, Wildflower Farms is now open in Gardiner. Once known as Heartwood, it had been subject to seven full years of consideration between developers and local opposition. Set on 141 acres that were once home to a tree nursery and before that a dairy farm, the luxury brand, Auberge Resorts Collection, wants guests to relax, eat well and embrace the wild as a nature-forward and wellness-focused luxury retreat. “It’s a departure from the traditional sense of luxury,” says General Manager Manolo Sorensen. “Wildflower Farms is really about allowing nature to be wild.”
Being a part of the Auberge collection comes at a price, hitting both the pocketbooks of guests and the heartstrings of locals. Those looking to stay are met with ambitious prices throughout. Back in September when the resort first started taking reservations, rooms were advertised at over $1000/night and have since come down to just over $600 for the winter months. But, according to the friendly front desk staff, the first months were fully booked, exceeding expectations and surprising even Sorensen. “It’s very humbling to say we were undershooting a little bit. There has been tremendous interest.”
Still, a build like this in a community like Gardiner will never come without pushback.
Friends of Gardiner, a concerned-citizen group even brought a lawsuit to fight the development. It’s natural to want to protect where you live and worry about the unknown and Sorensen, who most recently came from The Maker Hotel in Hudson, is no stranger to skepticism. “It’s understandable,” says Sorensen, “but I have to say that I’m blown away by the way that I’ve felt welcome in the Town of Gardiner. I feel like I know my neighbors and that we have true partnerships.”
Town of Gardiner Supervisor Marybeth Majestic notes that this type of development, which was very thoroughly reviewed by all interested parties, is not necessarily bad for the town. “They are a great asset for our community, as well as for Ulster County. They provide numerous benefits to the local people they employ, and the property will generate more real estate tax revenue than the previous use did without adding any children to the school district or any new roads for the town to maintain.”
The resort, consisting of 65 cabins, cottages and suites, a fitness center, pool, spa, underground green room, restaurant, cooking school, trail system and namesake farm — all curated up to the last nature-inspired knick-knack by New York-based Ward and Gray — took its first reservation on September 30, 2022. Designed to frame dramatic views of the Gunks in every corner of the development, the setting is breathtaking even for residents who have looked up at them all their lives, and locals up for a newly-framed take are welcome.
The team at Wildflower Farms is making a real effort to include the community in more ways than simply coming to gawk. Starting with the fact that of the 143 current employees, 130 were recruited locally. According to Sorensen, employees are offered a generous benefits package, including full medical, dental and vision insurance, 401K options, two home-cooked meals served every day, and an employee-stay program for all its 24 hotels.
The resort also boasts a robust list of local experiences for guests staying at the resort. Enza DePalma, the experience curator, has partnered with over 15 local businesses and artists to bring them in and introduce them to guests. “We really want guests to get a sense of place when they are here,” says DePalma. The most immediate neighbors, Stone Wave Yoga and Tuthilltown Distillery, are regular partners and Liz Glover Wilson, founder of Stone Wave, welcomes the business. “We are happy to collaborate. There is a beautiful synergy we share as neighbors with the stunning view, love for nature and focus on wellness.” Other partners include: Alpine Endeavors of New Paltz, watercolor artist Jaime Reynolds, Hops Petunia of Kingston, Silk & Willow Dye Studio in Gardiner, Forest Immersion and Reiki practitioner Tenney Gravatt, and many other creative individuals throughout the region. DePalma welcomes new ideas and collaborations with the community.
Those looking to catch the views or try a cocktail can lounge by the fireplace on the Great Porch which is a focal point in the main building, next to the grand porte cochere. The adjacent onsite restaurant, Clay, run by Executive Chef, Rob Lawson, is also open for reservations. The kitchen strives to be a destination restaurant offering location-specific fare including dishes with unique vegetables straight from the property farm. Many items that can’t be grown on-site are procured nearby. The Charcuterie features meats from La Salumina in Hurleyville and cheeses from Old Chatham Creamery in Groton, for example. Also notable is the fact that the kitchen will be open 365 days a year for breakfast, lunch and dinner which is hard to come by in the area.
Thistle, a 9000 square foot spa is open to the public. Attached to The Shop where guests arrive, the facility includes treatment rooms, outdoor hot tubs, indoor and outdoor pools, and features local products like the massage oil from Cultivate Apothecary of Newburgh. If you prefer to venture around the property, there are three miles of trails created by Hudson Valley Trailworks, who will also be assisting the internal team with maintaining the integrity of the trails. Visitors are welcome.
Locals are also invited to come on Thursday nights each week for live music in the Green Room, which sits directly below the restaurant and is the only room without windows, giving off a speakeasy vibe. “This is an experience that’s been our biggest programming piece that brings the local community in. This is open to the public for free” says DePalma. So far, the bulk of musicians have been local to the Hudson Valley. To view the upcoming schedule of events, call or visit www.wildflowerfarms.com.
Both the farm and Maplehouse Cooking school are central to the resort. As a working production farm, the team in charge of the land is serious about regenerative agriculture and farming for chefs, keeping the local land at the forefront of the flavor in the restaurant. The farm portion of the resort sits on land put into one of two conservation easements at Wildflower Farms. Owners Kristin and Phillip Rapoport and Zac Kleinhandler even hired New York City restaurants’ favorite farmer, Zaid Kurdieh of Norwich Farms, as the consulting farmer. In the spring, Wildflower Farms will launch a farm store open to the public, featuring foraged goods from both their farm and goods from farmers in the area.
Overall, just 4% of the total land is being developed and that in a conscious way, according to the owners. In the areas not farmed, “thousands of new trees have been planted to rewild the property and provide a net-increase in overall trees.” The property participates in community solar via a local, offsite solar array with production greater than or equal to 100% of electricity usage.
So perhaps early anxiety has been to some degree allayed. And even though Carol Richman, the one dissenting council member on the project, is still concerned about environmental impacts she says, “I have never been opposed to the project as a whole – as long as it is a good neighbor to the community.”
Wildflower Farms is located at 2702 Main Street in Gardiner. For additional information, call 855-472-3188 or visit www.wildflowerfarms.com.