Arroyo Quad Series: Botanical Garden Wins Design Award

Deborah Strelkow, MLA, RLA | Contributing Writer
We are proud to announce the Arroyo Quad is the recipient of a 2020 Design Award from the Florida American Society of Landscape Architects. The Quad, opened in November of 2019, provides a magical green oasis on campus. To honor the school’s history, Father Willie wanted a tropical botanical garden showcasing Cuban species. Pete Strelkow, principal and lead designer of HS2G Landscape Architecture, completed the botanical garden for Belen in collaboration with Johnny Medina ‘77, the architect for the Quad, and Alfred Consuegra ‘84, Project Manager. 

The construction schedule was determined by the academic calendar, requiring work to be mostly complete before the start of the 2019-20 school year. The project was fast-tracked, employing a small army of workers and a chaotic symphony of heavy machinery over the summer break: the rainy season. The 1.5-acre site where the original pool had been demolished was occupied by numerous pieces of heavy equipment. Planting, concrete, paving, irrigation, and lighting contractors worked simultaneously: contractors affectionately referred to the site as “the mud hole”. 

For the overstory, mature trees and palms were brought in to establish an instant canopy: over 130 specimens were trucked in from all over Florida. Species include native shade and flowering trees, exotic palms, as well as a collection of rare Cuban palms. Several 40’ live oak trees provide shade. The largest specimen, a 60’ banyan tree, was cut in half for transport and re-assembled on-site to reunite the halves. This banyan is now the focal point of the courtyard. 

The canopy provides gathering, seating areas, and outdoor classrooms with the cooling shade necessary for comfort and protection from the blazing Florida sun. Tropical palms function as focal points, frame views, and walkways.  A cypress dome of 40’ trees planted together with a group of cycads, transports students back to the Jurassic era. Throughout the courtyard, flowering trees provide a pop of color and year-round interest.

The selection of understory plantings posed a different challenge. A botanical garden demanded a wide variety of species from around the world; while, the school’s upkeep requirements demanded species that were low-maintenance and drought-resistant. Cycads were a perfect fit: tough, slow-growing, and exotic. They provide mid-level specimens with a tropical and dramatic appearance. Colorful shrubs and groundcovers were placed to define spaces and emphasize transitions. 

The botanical garden was designed to foster environmental appreciation and function as a living laboratory of diverse wildlife. Name tags with botanical names and geographical origins enhance the teaching aspect of the garden.  Students learn about biology and ecology through direct observation. The variety of native plants cultivates an appreciation of the delicate balance of Florida’s ecosystem and fosters an awareness of the principles of sustainability. In the coming months, we will explore different aspects of the Quad’s botanical garden in detail to highlight its unique components with the hope of fostering a life-long appreciation of nature’s abundant beauty and diversity.

Deborah Strelkow is a Registered Landscape Architect (FL#1533) with a master’s degree from FIU. As Principal of HS2G INC, she has over 30 years’ experience in Landscape Architecture with projects in Florida, the Caribbean, Columbia, and Ecuador.  She has received numerous awards and several published projects. For an expanded version of this article or more information please refer to
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Belen Jesuit Preparatory School was founded in 1854 in Havana, Cuba by Queen Isabel II of Spain.  The task of educating students was assigned to the priests and brothers of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), whose teaching tradition is synonymous with academic excellence and spiritual discipline.  In 1961, the new political regime of Cuba confiscated the School property and expelled the Jesuit faculty.  The School was re-established in Miami the same year, and over the next decade, continued to grow.  Today, Belen Jesuit sits on a 30-acre site in western Dade County, only minutes away from downtown Miami.