Dart Landscape Designer Jessica Barefoot is a talented young Caymanian who cultivates every plant in her project portfolio like they belong in a botanic park.
Before she began her career as a landscape designer, Jessica Barefoot was on a journey of self-discovery that included diving for lionfish in Cayman waters, exploring the Scottish Highlands and perfecting her "downward dog" and other yoga poses in London. Her background and experiences have armed her with a diverse set of skills and knowledge that give her an edge in her current role.
In this role, Barefoot contributes to many of Dart’s horticultural projects, including The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman’s recent US$50 million renovation in which she coordinated the design for the interior and exterior landscaping.
“That was a very rewarding experience,” says Barefoot, who began her career with Dart during an internship in 2017 and is now the youngest and only female landscape designer at the company.
“It’s very gratifying to see a project literally come to life in such a tangible way.”
A FIVE-STAR JUNGLE
The lush and tropical plants at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman convey a sense of life and grandeur without ostentation. Barefoot took the reins early on in the project and made it her mission to create a world of flora that gave each space throughout the property a sense of place and purpose.
“The selection and placement of each plant, shrub and tree was strategic, both indoors and out,” says Barefoot. “For example, in the Silver Palm Lounge, we placed stone planters filled with a variety of plant species including Kentia palms and birds of paradise to complement the interior design of that space. Nothing you see there or anywhere on the property is an afterthought.”
Planters filled with a variety of lush and leafy trees can be spotted in groupings throughout the interiors of the resort, bringing life to each space. Barefoot says that the indoor plant selection was part of a meticulous process that considered available sunlight and the long-term health and maintenance of each plant species.
“Likewise, the exterior landscaping is exposed to 365 days of salt spray; therefore, we chose very hardy plants with thick cuticles to withstand the harsh elements of our environment,” says Barefoot. “Of course, the design aesthetic also plays an important role. I want each plant grouping to feel fresh and achieve a jungle-like vibe. A good example can be seen in the Bar Jack area near the beach.”
Dart Senior Manager Landscape Design and Horticulture Whit Connors says that Barefoot was a key member of the installation team for both The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman and the new Hampton by Hilton, which opened last fall.
“She was able to take our designs and make them a reality by working hand in hand with the subcontractors, construction management and Dart’s hospitality and nursery teams,” says Connors. “She was very hands on, which allowed her to utilise our own nursery stock in an elevated manner.”
Reverence for nature plays an integral role in Dart’s vision for the Cayman Islands and Barefoot honours this in every aspect of her role, which varies greatly from day to day.
“One day I may be creating a design presentation and the next I’ll be shopping for plants that attract pollinators,” says Barefoot. “Bees, butterflies and beetles are types of pollinators that make our ecosystem healthier and our team considers this interaction between animals and plants in every project.”
Another example of an important relationship is integrated pest management, which uses ladybugs in place of pesticide.
“Everything has its purpose,” she adds. “I love Dart’s holistic approach to horticulture."
Barefoot’s current projects include the ongoing maintenance of trees that were uprooted by Tropical Storm Grace last year and subsequently transplanted. She’s also working on a landscape design package for the new Hotel Indigo, currently under construction.
In 2016, during the summer before completing a Bachelor of Science degree in ecological and environmental science at the University of Edinburgh, Barefoot worked at Vigoro Nursery.
“That’s when I realised that I much prefer flora to fauna,” says Barefoot.
Not long after graduation, she was offered an internship at the Dart Arboretum.
“My internship at Dart was extended after one summer and eventually it evolved into pursuing my master’s degree,” says Barefoot. In 2019, Dart funded Barefoot’s Master's in Landscape Architecture from Greenwich University in London.
“Jessica's ecological background expands our landscape design thinking and processes as a team," says Connors. "She bridges ecology, horticulture and landscape architecture."
Upon completion of her postgraduate degree and before returning home, Connors offered Barefoot a single piece of advice.
“He told me to do something completely unrelated to my degree or career because it would benefit me in intangible ways,” says Barefoot. “So, I became a yoga instructor, which is something I never thought I would do. I now teach once a week."
This article appears in the March 2022 print edition of the Camana Bay Times.