Words Carly DeFilippo
Photos Lauren DeFilippo

Visit Los Poblanos, New Mexico's Own Desert Rose

Oct 14, 2016

Tucked in the heart of New Mexico’s Rio Grande valley, Los Poblanos is a 25-acre literal desert oasis. Though just 15 minutes from Albuquerque or an hour’s drive from downtown Santa Fe, the eerie beauty of its sleepy, lush landscape begs the question—how did we get here?

The history of the property stretches back to the 1400s, when the Anasazi Indians relocated to New Mexico from the region of Puebla, Mexico (whose inhabitants are traditionally known as ‘Poblanos’). In the 1700s, the valley’s agricultural history began, transforming the soil into the rich farmland the region is known for today.

In the 1930s, the ranch at Los Poblanos was developed by a retired political power couple, congresswoman Ruth McCormick Simms and congressman Albert Simms. During that period, the farm’s primary agricultural venture was sugar beets—an experimental wartime effort to reduce the American consumption of sugar cane—as well as an onsite dairy co-op.

From the beginning, the contributions of the Simms to the local community extended far beyond farming. Under their ownership, Los Poblanos’ social, civil and cultural mission expanded, welcoming elite political visitors and local community members alike for art exhibitions, concerts, and other events. As farmers toiled in the shadow of the Sandia Mountains, they witnessed the birth of architect John Gaw Meem’s revitalized ranch house and stately colonnaded event space, featuring Albuquerque’s first ever swimming pool. To this date, both buildings remain exquisite examples of what came to be known as the Santa Fe style of architecture.

“It’s not the New Mexican way to groom everything perfectly. We love seeing plants grow out of the cracks."

Even the gardens surrounding the ranch were innovative for their time, designed by the country’s first licensed female landscape architect. Featuring a state-of-the-art irrigation system, the Rose Greely garden still bursts with vivid English roses—the kind of fragrant, impossibly multicolored breeds that risk falling apart upon being picked. Steps away, massive wisteria and sunflowers (that no staff member can recall planting) challenge the roses’ dominance, ensuring that no corner of the property should look too perfectly groomed. As Nancy Kinyanjui, the property manager, notes, “It’s not the New Mexican way to groom everything perfectly. We love seeing plants grow out of the cracks, and that sense of ‘wildness’ is built into the property historically.”

After the deaths of the original owners in the early 1960s, Los Poblanos had fallen into disrepair. In 1976, Armin and Penny Rembe stepped in and entered the property into the National Register of Historic Places. During the first twenty years of their ownership, the Rembe family’s passion for preservation remained a private affair as they raised their four children with the added responsibility of farm chores.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that the Rembe family opened the property to the public as a hotel—adding an additional twenty rooms to the property’s original six, as well as an on-site restaurant. Today, the latter has become one of the property’s biggest draws, earning a James Beard nomination among other accolades. From a sparkling Mexican rosé on the wine list to a lavender-laced cocktail, sunflower petals sprinkled over a crisp green salad to local chile jam paired with sharp cheese, every element of the menu echoes the local terroir, inviting guests to think about the story of every ingredient gracing their plates.

In more recent years, many food and fashion influencers—as well as other creative types—have become unofficial (but important) ambassadors of the Los Poblanos experience. Many have discovered the property through its line of lavender-infused products, including a salve inspired by Penny Rembe’s home recipe. Edible products are also available for purchase at the farm, including local lavender-infused honey or even a granola made with native New Mexican pecans.

But lavender—a bountiful grosso breed unique to Los Poblanos—is only one of many plants that flourish on the property. In fact, for those who envision New Mexico as a barren desert, the lush, green surroundings are a welcome surprise. Throughout the property, unexpected clusters of pomegranates, figs, herbs, jujubes, and other wild edibles burst forth. The central, man-made pond literally overflows with floating lotus blossoms, surrounded by towering twisted trees and ferns.

A mere stroll through Los Poblanos proves an insightful glimpse into the riches of New Mexican agriculture, but the real mission of the farm is far more hands-on. Much of the day-to-day maintenance of the property is supported by volunteers, and guests at the inn are encouraged to participate in the daily pruning, planting, and harvesting. In turn, everyone is welcome to enjoy the property’s ripe fruits or make tea with the local flowers and herbs. (Of course, a little guidance from the staff can help—as in the case of the stunning Datura flowers, which can easily shift from therapeutic to hallucinogenic.)

This all-for-one attitude isn’t just a wholesome marketing ploy. While it might resemble a grant-funded community center, Los Poblanos’ future depends dearly on its independent financial viability. “The farm is a for-profit business,” Kinyanjui explains. “All the money that is earned from the hotel guests, the restaurant, and the farm shop goes back into the property. Our mission is to be here for a long time, so we need to do that work in the smartest way possible.”

In addition to hosting events, serving dinner, or housing guests at the inn, education continues to be a central part of the farm’s viability, with guests like Dan Barber visiting to share insights and learn from Los Poblanos’ unique climate and historical context. Each exchange of knowledge contributes to the farm’s longstanding tradition of innovation. Yet today, there is more at stake than agriculture. The great experiment and goal of Los Poblanos is not simply to grow the finest sugar beets or lavender, but to use farming as a method of architectural, historical, and cultural preservation.

Read more from Lauren DeFilippo here, and Carly DeFilippo here.