Thursday, November 11, 2010

Taking Stock

With a dash of measured enthusiasm and a peppering of simmered ballyhoo The Barefoot Contessa has done it again, again. "How easy is that?" is the most recent addition to Ina Garten's cookbook brood and in birth order stands as number seven in her swelling bookopoly. As the name suggests, the featured recipes illustrate Ina's bid to slim down kitchen theatrics and streamline provisions to showcase simplified recipes. The usual suspects are well represented and yes, the indulgent butter prompts remain as innocent red velvet muffin tops continue to threaten even the strongest challah chiseled chests and waistlines. This time around though, the obscure mail order ingredients have become extinct and recipes have been stripped down to reveal only the components that boast maximum flavor crucial to the success of each dish. The greatest gift of this book is plucked from the rungs of the Food Pyramid. Revel in leafing through the recipes to uncover Ina Garten’s professional slant of top taste producing foods including the “chosen ones” from the vegetable garden. Alright Kreskin, perhaps you know where this is subtly, how will my jardin potager shuffle into Ina's trim new deck? A recap first.
"Ina thought your project sounded wonderful...she had no idea how much she referenced certain vegetables!.." was my official reply from Ina's office in response to the article I published last spring titled "Ina's Garten". (It is featured on www. The essay determined that there was no better way to decide the architectural edibles that should be included in my garden than to source the recipes from which I cook. It outlined how I catalogued every herb, fruit and vegetable referenced in every single recipe published in each of Ina's cookbooks. Those with the highest frequencies were then considered to join my elite team of boxwoods. Now seasons later, when I learned that there was another cookbook in Ina's pipeline I knew that it would be perfectly poised to choreograph a savory cadence to the archipelago of planting beds in my backyard.
Meg Ryan does a great interpretation of the run/walk in many of her movies. Mothers were covering children's eyes as I performed my own version into Barrett Bookstore the morning the cookbook was released. Imagine, if you will the pure delight I felt when I had secured my own, unbagged copy of "How easy is that?” In a guilt ridden twist, my family feasted on The Colonel that night as I began a detailed index through HRH’s elaborate assortment of caponata, tapenade, bisque, tartare and panzanella. After a quick round of homespun kiddie New York Egg Creams and conscience thus clear, I began my review.
Personally, the highlights of the book for the vegetarian-landscape architect were three fold. Obviously the entries that heavily feature vegetables received my considered raised brow (decidedly low grades were given to beef oxtails," N-I-M-B-Y"). Passing this pivotal first test, recipes that call on produce that I could plant in my potager ranked exceedingly higher marks for merging hobby and lifestyle. (Why, hello to you Tomatoes Roasted with Pesto!) Finally, the cream of the crop, dog-eared medalists were those recipes that paid homage to the herb (Roasted Summer Vegetables, you complete me).
Yes, HERBS. Unless you are wintering in an Observation akin to Paxton’s Crystal Palace, gardening amid November's pursuit to run chlorophyll out of town is fruitless. At this time of year, I thought that it would be interesting to see what was going to keep the real estate over the proverbial kitchen sink green while Jack Frost hob-knobs outside with Clark Griswold.
I'm no actuarial, but I was confident that I could tally up the high frequency of herbs in Ina’s new recipes to decipher what mélange she culled to construct one arm of her “dream team of taste”. How would the herbal frequency in these haiku-sized recipes stand on their own and what would occur when pit against my previous statistics? The very premise on which the "How Easy is that?" recipes were designed suggested that at the very least, I was about to uncover the Rosetta Stone for translating the produce department at Whole Foods! Or so I thought. Allow me to spare you some busy work on Excel. With resounding crescendo...the top three herbs that showed the greatest frequency in Ina's latest cookbook were the exact same top candidates as tallied in books 1 through 6.....HUH? What it boils down to is this: Ina has basically had the perfect combination of full flavored herbs all along! Man, she's good.
Folks, it is with great pleasure that I invite you to remove the paper whites and wishbones past from the window sill. Allow me to introduce to you Ina Garten’s “Ryder Cup of Herbdom”, GARLIC* PARSLEY and THYME.
Ya Dig?
*In every effort to be an accurate actuarial I had to include garlic as a sill contender. However, allow me to suggest you try DILL as runner up.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tuteurs for Tutelage

If you are interested in learning more about Alice Waters and her Edible Schoolyard Project or joining Noelle Henderson's team please find the attachments below.

Also may I recommend to find out what foods are in season, local haunts to harvest from and recipes to enlist your cornucopia in the crisper.

Tuteurs for Tutelage
I call it the back-to-school breeze. Seasonally, it begins with just a breath in August and crawls up to no more than a whistle just as the aces are crowned at Flushing Meadows. Its force has nothing on the Santa Ana or Chinook winds but it's significance carries with it much weight. In tune with my own maternal instinct, (but perhaps more temperate) it’s Mother Nature's subtle gesture to suggest to our children that the summer months of beach lollygagging are coming to a swift end. The time has come for them to return their focus on achieving a higher education and grace the halls of academia. Greeting them on campus each September are math, english, science and a prodigious splash of language and arts. For years, these subjects have been the usual suspects in forming the all star "core curriculum". On the heels of next year’s breeze though, things may be a little different. Recently, I met with Noelle Henderson who is interested in nourishing the traditional model of education with the debut of plants in the classroom. A passionate supporter of resuscitating local schoolyards with working gardens she and her team hope to graft the benefits and experiences of an outdoor classroom with current lesson plans.
I find this to be an interesting concept. (Even though, it would be a severe blow to the beloved rye grass/Styrofoam cup campaign.) Perhaps I listened to too much Cat Stevens in the 80's that left me wondering the quality of children’s play? In any event, I was game to learn more. Kindly, Henderson introduced me to the cause she champions; The Edible Schoolyard Project which has been soldiering across America since 1996. The concept for the Project began in 1971 when gourmand and owner of Chez Panisse Restaurant, Alice Waters began her quest to source premium tasting produce to heighten the essence of her fare. Ultimately, her scrupulous palette led her to enlist the local California farmers who seemed the only purveyors capable of fulfilling her refined culinary demands. A noted pioneer of the organic and locavore trends she relied on these movements to endorse her signature dishes.
Fifteen years passed with great success and Waters realized a philanthropic need to share the benefits of her gastronomic philosophy with a greater audience. The Edible Schoolyard Project was Waters’ short order for duck soup. With a background in the Montessori Method and livelihood in food, it only made sense that she married her interest in teaching with her love of fresh food. The Project became Waters' medium to feed the nation her news, propaganda that would have put a smile on even Tom Joad's face. Like budding Bourdains I'm sure Waters envisioned monkey bar chatter to feature dizzy banter boasting of broccollini conquests blanched with premium soil ratio debates.
Fourteen years strong, The Edible Schoolyard Project has had the luxury of time to smooth it's wrinkles and a visit to it's website presents a truly persuasive argument in favor of introducing plants and planting techniques into the schoolyard. While stewing over the Project’s philosophy, I began to conjure kiddies captivated by the gentle art of crudite arrangement, children trading heirloom seeds from their retired Pokemon binders and backpacks brimming with basil. This Moosewood-esque nirvana would have ranch dressing usurping regional ketchup sales and the coveted Sotheby's Art of Farming Auction would replace requests for FAO boondoggles. Just think about it, a mere trip to Whole Foods could potentially assuage any child surfing along Disney's lunatic fringe!
Jamie Oliver, Vogue Magazine, Oprah and Martha Stewart are all extolling The Edible Schoolyard Project. But yes, there are always skeptics and some do believe that this approach is more educational garnish in place to satiate the horticulturally hungry diet of today’s culture. That is for you to decide. However, cheerfully deriding Cheetos in promotion of cherries seems logically in tune with Michelle Obama's admirable crusade to stop childhood obesity. At the basic level, the Project looks to educate students on the values associated with local, sustainable and organic food and serve as a platform for helping them make reasonable food choices. Ultimately, it's up to the local community to embrace this blue ribbon approach and shepherd it to the schoolyard. If you’re interested in learning more about Waters' Project or joining Henderson's team visit my blog: Until then, the next time you feel the back-to-school breeze rustle through the aspens consider it an invitation to recall Water's delicious revolution as food for thought.
Ya Dig?


Monday, August 9, 2010

Garden Variety

This month I'm inspired by entertaining in the garden. Clean lines and muted tones mixed with beautiful plantings will set the tone for any fete.

1. These pool locker baskets would make great centerpieces when lined with sheet moss and planted with powdered succulents. Alternately, place them on the ground as creches filled with moss and tickseed "little penny" or a bundle of blue fescue.

2. Flank the bar area with these low zinc planters placed on tall pedestals.Fill each with an unexpected planting. Here I have sourced a profusion of Mamoth Red Rock Cabbage.

3. Outdoor umbrellas give any patio an added three dimensional feel while creating shade for guests. Charcoal and linen canvas versions are a must.

4.Corbels topped with a thin bluestone slab creates the perfect spot to store extra glasses and napkins.

5. Mark the entrance to the patio with these Campania urns and plant with a brown leaf turkey fig or sweet bay tree.
Eugenia topiaries would also look great.

6. After dinner, fill these zinc footed bowls with decadent delights or fresh fruit.

7. Using natural cord, tie a unique seed packet to a Guy Wolff pot as a kind gesture of thanks for each guest.

Ya Dig?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sow & Sow Digs For Hadrian's Hortocouture:

Urns are a great way to delineate the transition areas between outdoor rooms. These are all weather and hold year round stamina when planted with a native evergreen.

What is not to love about an outdoor shower? This is an inexpensive model that can be hooked up to an existing external water line. Sand and salt can be sluiced off while enjoying the blue sky above. A simple cedar screen would add privacy and a dry spot to hang a robe. A simple outdoor room that boosts the appeal of the garden. Summer is here!

An outdoor living room is a great way to extend the liveable space of your home. Buy solid Sunbrella pillows and have them monogrammed with a poignant design or crest. Watch the sunrise with your kids and listen to the world wake up.

Finally! In October 2010 Ina Garten is coming out with another one of her signature cookbooks. In celebration, why not add an herb garden to your jardin potager or plant them in an elevated window box in an outdoor room? Simple ingrediants can make even her recipies more delish.

I loved this concept of the steel mum. Adding antiques in the garden is a great way to source the local treasures of the community and anchor the landscape into the greater whole.

Tuteurs are classic garden structures that brace climbing plants like tomatoes, eggplant and cucumber. They are beautiful in a jardin potager and also add visual interest in cold months. I would source a large version to ensure that they would not get lost in the summer greens.

A client of mine introduced me to her son's fabulous website where you can purchase a concrete ping pong table which also seats 12 for dinner. The vision is brilliant (and Agassi thought so too) and a great accoutrement to any outdoor room.

Ya Dig?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Strawberry Fields Forever

Thank goodness it’s via email as I’ve already assumed the sing song lilt of Paul McCartney as I prepare to interview the well-known British author Adam Nicolson. (They say that Canadians have an ear for picking up dialects). His latest book, “Sissinghurst, An Unfinished History” is due for release stateside this month. With a bag of crisps and outfitted in my Beatles T (seemed only appropriate) I read his fascinating memoir of growing up with his grandmother, poet Vita Sackville-West at her legendary English castle “Sissinghurst”.

Rich in content, his writing satiates many interests including history, agriculture, economics and gardening. Personally, the “bangers and mash” were the passages that focused on the formal gardens and more importantly, the agricultural landscape surrounding Sissinghurst. Here, Nicolson discusses how he fought to transform the dormant working landscape of the castle grounds into a viable working farm. Eventually, the triumph of this resource was able to support the culinary needs of Sissinghurst’s restaurant. The business operation that Nicolson designed is reminiscent to New York’s Stone Barns outfit of employing sustainable farming practices to feed the locavore frenzy. With a British spin, his model is embellished with regal punctuations, murder, treasure and nostalgic accounts of his distinguished ancestry. As the book ends, we see how Nicolson has begun a new chapter in Sissinghurst’s long history. He will be noted for breathing new life into the grounds in an innovative way that amalgamated old world practicalities with contemporary economics and food culture.

Recently, I had the favor of his interview in anticipation of his lecture stop in Darien. (Please note that he references Alan Alder the ballet dancer not, Hawkeye Pierce). And so my cyber conversation with Mr. Nicolson begins.

Lesley MacAulay: To meet the culinary demands of your restaurant, the farm needs to supply food in order to produce approximately 200 meals a day. How do you accommodate the kitchen in tandem with the constraints of the cooler growing seasons? How has your plant list changed since its conception... according to what plants thrive best in the soil or as per culinary preference?

Adam Nicolson: One of the benefits of running a restaurant in tandem with a famous garden is that it is all closed over the winter, from late October to about mid-March. This means that we don’t have to cater in the vegetable garden for those non-growing months. But of course that does leave the hungry gap in the spring when visitors are here in numbers for the spring flowers but the vegetables have yet to produce in any volume. We have made a big feature of lettuces, herbs and other salads for those early parts of the year. We also very carefully store root vegetables and when the new orchard gets into full production we will store and/or juice apples and pears.
The plant list is in constant evolution, and it is of course a conversation between the soil (which is exceptionally difficult here) and the kitchen. This conversation has not always been easy, as the chefs at Sissinghurst have found it rather difficult to adapt to the supply of vegetables coming off the garden in slightly unpredictable quantities and qualities. It’s early days!
It is important to remember that this is about more than a vegetable garden: the new farmer here John Hickman has Sussex beef cattle, Romney sheep, chickens and large wheat and oat fields. The beef and lamb is already in the restaurant, eggs coming on stream. He may be getting some pigs later in the year.

LM: Ina Garten is a celebrity chef in my neck of woods. I refer to her recipes constantly. I selected her highest frequency produce used in her recipes to influence what I should plant in my own jardin potager. What would be Sissinghurst’s high frequency produce?

AN:Salads and herbs, spinach, kale, chard, courgettes and cucumbers, peas, broad then runner beans, carrots, beetroot, potatoes and in the polytunnels, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants

LM: The New York Times estimated that in 2009 approximately 10 million people would start a garden for the first time. Have you seen a similar phenomenon explode in England?

AN: Certainly there is a huge Grow Your Own movement in England, a desire to return to roots, to know where your food comes from, to get back in touch with the soil, to feel the freshness .

LM: What advice would you give to the novice home “vegetabler”?

AN: Get the soil right! Feed it with organic matter and make sure that it will drain. Neither too thin nor too stodgy. And lots of compost. If you get that right, things grow. And don’t sow too early. Be patient about getting things in the ground.

LM: Stone Barns in New York runs a similar operation to your own. They now have two restaurants that they support through local farm resources. It has been a huge success and the owners have since created Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture to foster their message of local farming. How many visitors to Sissinghurst are now coming to see the operations and intricacies of the working landscape rather than the White Garden?

AN: Before we started this new whole farm scheme Sissinghurst was getting about 150,000 visitors a year on a slowly dropping trend. Last year, after quite a lot of promotion and publicity, Sissinghurst had 200,000 visitors. About 120,000 of them went to the restaurant, about 90,000 visited the vegetable garden. We don’t count the numbers who walk round the farm.

LM: Since opening its doors to the public, Sissinghurst has become globally renowned for its spectacular and beautiful formal gardens and walkways. How was the dichotomy of the returned agrarian landscape stitched into this refined design aesthetic?

AN: The idea Vita had for the garden here was that she could ‘find in chain/The castle, and the pasture, and the rose.’ The ruined Elizabethan mansion, the mixed farmland and the garden she made were all to be part of one connected whole. The ancient landscape of the Weald of Kent provided the rather loose, rough frame within which the high gardening in the Rose and White gardens could be seen as a climax or culmination of the place. High horticultural art, the idea is, is seen to best advantage when it appears emergent from the landscape not imposed on it. To recreate a mixed organic Wealden farm (not wall to wall chemical arable crops) is to return Sissinghurst to its natural balance.

LM: In landscape architecture “genius loci” is a term used to describe a sense of space or a place’s individual personality. You provided a punch list of objectives for Sissinghurst in your book. How has the estate’s identity of becoming “a place exceptionally itself” evolved since you went to print?

AN: These things are extremely difficult to define. It’s certainly feeling good at the moment. There are a lot of people working on the land here — the Hickman family, the vegetable gardeners, volunteers, new woodmen and estate wardens, who seem to have a spring in their step. As I do! Genius loci comes, maybe, from the integration of human desires for a place with what that place can give them. It is in the concordance of those desires and the unforgiving conditions imposed by weather, soil and aspect that a place can seem to live. But it is slow. We have to ease into a new/old way of being. It’s coming: we have lovely calves and lambs here in newly sown pasture fields which have been down to oil seed rape for years. John Hickman is an exceptionally careful farmer and the arable land looks great. We have put in nearly a mile of new hedges on old lines. And we have re-instated a 40 acre hay meadow (Frogmead) which was there in the Middle Ages and was taken out in about 1860. ‘A place exceptionally itself’ is a somewhere that is living in the knowledge of its own past but is energised and not trapped by that knowledge

LM: Obviously the gardens at Sissinghurst are your favorite. What landscape would be a close second?

AN: I have long loved the Hebrides, wild, rough and very beautiful islands on the NW coast of Scotland.

LM: I really enjoyed your nightingale analogy. What history do you envision yourself making that will be emulated in the future?

AN: I hope that the changes that are happening at Sissinghurst might provide a model for other places. That is the song I would like to think I am singing.

LM: Imagine that you could assemble a cast from past to present to join you in a Sissinghurst harvest feast. Who would make your guest list?

AN: Off the top of my head:
Audrey Hepburn, John Aubrey, Mary Wollstonecraft, John Keats, Benjamin Disraeli, John Betjeman, Alan Alder, William Cobbett

If your name didn’t make Mr. Nicolson’s guest list you still have an opportunity to share in his company (Though, I would imagine minus the rabbit pie, slow-roast root vegetables and pudding with gooseberries). He will be speaking about this book and personal journey at the DCA on May 19th. The event is being sponsored by Barrett Bookstore whom also have copies of the book for purchase. From me to you.

Ya dig?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Postcards from the Hedge: Darien Train Station

In the fall of 2009 The Beautification Commission of Darien, Connecticut very kindly asked me to redesign the berm at the Darien Train Station. The existing conditions of the site included the Metro North railway tracks, two large staircases from ground level to the train, large coniferous plantings, good lighting, and a small water feature with a culvert. The slender parcel of land made it a perfect candidate to become a linear park dressed for the needs of commuters and to act as a connection point from nearby retail outlets.

The site creates a unique situation as the occupier of the space has most likely arrived from the bustle of New York City streets and commotion of Grand Central Station. When the commuter exists the train they will begin to see the sunken garden below and learn what Darien is about through the linear park’s design features. It will be a snapshot of the story of our town as a coastal and historic community with its own vernacular language.

The conception of the design process began with research into the tidal fluctuation of the water at the beaches in Darien. When charted, I noticed that the constantly fluctuating tide of 6- 8 feet created an undulating necklace. This tidal fluctuation started the skeletal system for the linear park. I extended this gesture onto the landscape at the berm.

This became the structure for placing the plantings, circulation and seating. The shape of the curve begins as the tidal wave does and then begins to relax as it travels across the site. This lends a graceful curve to the landscape in contrast to the linear environment of the tracks above. I refer to the structure as a gunwale, the channel along the side of a boat that carries water.

On the east side of the berm the gunwale becomes home to the daffodils and then meets the existing waterway. At the culvert, the gunwale takes to the ground and engages the occupier of the space by creating outdoor rooms with seating areas and shade created by boulders and maple plantings. At the end of each stair case, the gunwales begin to blend back into the landscape. The concept of the gunwale blends the existing landscape of the berm with the remaining untouched section. A kinder and more intimate scale is also introduced using this skeletal system.

Stage One:

Boulders are iconic in this area with our collection of old stone walls and rock outcroppings at our beaches. Used on site, they will perform as seating fixtures for the space, create rooms and delineate the open space. I placed boulders along the gunwale, on both sides of the culvert and at both staircases. The boulders also act to stitch the site in with the local landscape as they are also found throughout the downtown core.

In March the town was hit by a Nor'easter that uprooted many conifer trees in the town. Sadly, the site suffered from this herculean storm and 8 trees fell like dominoes. One light fixture was crushed and I hope to keep it on site for historical significance.

Stage Two:
The curves created by the gunwales on the east end of the sloped area of the berm are home for the plantings of the daffodils. A small planting was also placed to the left of the west staircase. Four species of daffodils were planted in the fall of 2009, 6” on center for a total of 1000 bulbs. Come spring, the gunwale will come to life creating a vibrant strip of color to the site. We can add to them over the years and naturalize them. Again, their small scale is excellent in grounding the space for the occupier.

Stage Three: With the arrival of Spring, project construction will continue on as follows. Check back for photo updates.

I selected hedera helix because it's an attractive groundcover that would extend the 9000 square feet of the berm, is evergreen, deer resistant, low maintenance, fast growing and tolerant of both shade and sun. The ivy will also secure the slope of the berm with it's root system and the tendrils can be trained to conceal the unsightly infrastructure of the train platform. It's fine texture also minimizes the large scale of the site, grounding the occupier of the space and creates a beautiful green carpet to connect the length of the site. Cost also played a role as ivy was the most cost effective and stayed within our budget. I suggested the ivy to be planted one per square foot on the slope of the berm.

Red Maple ‘Sunset’:
They are iconic transition markers. A number of years ago when I was drafting a Master Tree Plan for Darien I recommended Red Maples as the gateway trees into our town. They are native, deer resistant and pose as excellent beacons for welcoming arrivals into our town. Their full fall color display is unbelievable and enjoyed by all. It was also on the list from Planning and Zoning of approved plantings in the town’s rights of ways. I planted 4 Red Maples on the site. Three on the west of the culvert and one at the east staircase to balance the site and act a wayfinder when seen from Day Street and Post Road. They also serve as screens to obscure the hardware of the train and over head utilities. Tucked into the remaining conifers, they will be an awesome spectacle for the occupier of the space. When seated by the trees, their leaves will shake as the trains pass through town.

I chose to engage this species as it was preexisting on the site and posed as a great opportunity to tie the site together. The current species are found to the far right of the last staircase. I planted 22 spiraea along the gunwale on the berm to demarcate it when the daffodils are not in bloom and then threaded 2 more at the west staircase for continuity. Spiraea are cost effective, low maintenance, deer resistant, native and have fall color and spring flowers. A nurseryman assured me that they would do well with the slope of the berm and again would stabilize the soil with it's root system. Their spring flowers and fall color will stitch the site together.


I selected three different types of perennial flowers that reseed using the wind and are to be planted strategically to the right of the west staircase. I wanted to harness the power of the train to breathe new life into the site by using the wind it creates to reseed the flowers in the landscape. In return, the plants would be tall enough to bow to the passing of the trains in the wind. Each plant is at least 12” to 24” tall and will stand above the ivy. In this way, the eye sore of the site will actually be used to improve it’s appearance and enjoyment. The garden will come to life when the train passes through. The seating areas along the gunwale will allow the occupier of the space to watch this relationship and also watch as the garden become filled with more flowers as the years pass.

Ya Dig?

Many thanks to Suzanne Schutte and John Schlatenhaufen for acting as project coordinators extraordinaire,to the fine gents at the Public Works Department for their installation assistance and to Whole Foods Market for donating our boulders.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Architectural Edibles

I'm not sure how it happened. Lady luck or given the fellow "r a n d o m l y" drawing the names just happened to be Canadian too. In any event, Pierre announced my ballot second in the lottery to assign dorm rooms. To the shock of the crimson crowd, I selected the uninspired room with a lone window that offered a SPECTACULAR view overlooking the home Philip Johnson designed while earning his architectural degree. From street level, the entire property was shrouded by an ominous and tall brick wall that squelched all hopes from the inquisitive eye. However, from my second storey post, this secret world was mine for visual consumption. Delighted with my good fortune, I had a maquette of the MOMA's sculpture garden as my primitive screen saver. (Now if only Lucio, the crazy from down the hall would leave me alone.)

Appropriately, I positioned my drafting board to afford optimal views of the well appointed courtyard across the street. (Invasive? No, art appreciation.) Mr. Johnson's iconic glass curtain walls of the residence set the stage for the modern landscape plan. Proportion, clean lines and symmetry were all components of the simply sophisticated design. By my graduation, his subliminal propaganda in favor of the modernist movement had taken it's hold. My handle was more Easter Island than Villa d'Este. I had honed a true respect and preference for sleeker,minimal and contemporary landscapes.

The antithesis of this style would be the craze that is currently sweeping the nation. The homegrown, "Care to trade seeds?", put your overalls on, let's grab the pitchfork..... vegetable garden. It should come of no great surprise then, that I'm not a devotee of the aesthetic qualities of the standard issue veggie patch*. If it's attached to someone else's address or in queue to dress up my Cobb Salad all the better. It seems like a traffic jam of roots and leaves that Mr. Johnson would never espouse. Functionally dysfunctional too. Let's leave the Children on the Corn Redux for the folks in Hollywood. My yard cannot accommodate corn as high as an elephant's eye in tandem with the tasks of soccer games, slip and slides and camp outs. But qualities of the homegrown revolution are enticing....and a French panier filled with a cornucopia of fresh bounty at the back door would be richly appetizing and gainfully employed.

(*Now, now. I can almost anticipate my distended inbox from the groundswell of disgruntled "veggie patchers". Please, I mean no malice...I'm Canadian after all. That's synonymous with "I'm really terribly sorry to bother you but it seems that your beautiful bamboo has swallowed my children and the entire house." All the power to you. Please invite me over to admire the rhubarb and we can swap borscht recipes.)

Remember the Venn diagram with three circles and the little "patch" of overlap in the middle? Yup, the middle ground of compromise. May I suggest another option in practicing sustainable food production while maintaining the integrity of your lawn's square footage. Dismantle the vegetable garden and farm it's members out into the framework of the existing garden. The architecture of these edibles is beautiful and deserving to take a featured presence in your garden. One would never dream of pairing Agassi, Roddick, Federer and Nadal on one side of the net. Think of gardening as a spectator sport too. Why clump these plants into one big bunch where their features can't be best displayed and appreciated. In my opinion, less is more. This approach, while not for everyone suits my lifestyle (pleasurably busy), design aesthetic (who wants the look of a links course off the patio) and vegetarian palate (mmmm...fresh pesto).

There are countless ways to introduce husbandry into your yard that won't draw concern from you spouse or have your children referring to the scarecrow in the background as "Dad". I harnessed Phil and his architectural cronies to draft a little inspiration from in thoughtfully infusing your own garden with architectural edibles.

Try the Frank Lloyd Wright approach to showboating tomatoes and express your love of the Guggenheim. English Garden Solutions markets a spiral steel hoop that fits into planters and trains plants vertically. Their promotional photos show awesome spiralled tomato plant columns that I would expect to see in a swank Miami Beach enclave during Art Basel. When the tomatoes are planted in multiples, these would be great accents flanking an entrance and delicious in a sauce or salad.

Luis Barragan spinned his color wheel with a Junaknoo sensibility. Azalea pink walls matched with fluid pools of blue. Follow suit by infusing a dull tract of shingles or fence with sophisticated espalier fruit trees. While an economic use of space, the expression of color through the seasons would be exceptional. Pump up the volume with a sinuous edge of cabbage, carrots and cosmos.

If it's your goal to master the art of french cooking, channel Gustav Eiffel's machine aesthetic along a vacant stretch of backyard fence. Shop the garden center for decorative trellised obelisks and station them every 10 feet or so (depending on length of fence). Paint them a high gloss contrasting color and try your hand at peas. Alternately, Battle Hill Forge fashions iron tripods or larger tepees that can carry the load of richly planted gourds while creating a hideout for children with a cocoa bean floor. Use as a folly in the landscape...Blend it like Blenheim baby.

Tickle the aviaries a la Renzo and Piano's Pompidou Center. Many companies are now promoting green wall technology that seemed to be everywhere at the Architectural Digest Home Show. It's an industrial looking grid of small metal pipes that attaches to a vertical plane and allows you to grow small scaled plantings of arugula, lettuce varieties and smaller herbs. Think of it as a Gee's Bend quilting bee and create your own pattern using color and texture variations. On a spartan patio this can add a great deal of spatial wealth.

Add Richard Meier to your dream team. Among many things, this architect is noted for his singular color sensation. A homogeneous hedge can be dressed up nicely under this inclination. Let's go out on a limb here and just assume that said hedge is green. Go on and stud it with like colored produce. Think broccoli, spindled cucumber or even cabbage. The inverse would also work. Source a vegetable, herb or fruit that you fancy that is both visually appealing/delish and pair it up with like colored flowers for a gourmet planter or window box.

In a pickle? If you are not sure what to plant to keep in tune with the demands of your grocery cart, look to the recipes from which you cook to influence your planting decisions. Earlier in the year I catalogued the frequency of produce used in Ina Garten's six cookbooks. The Barefoot Contessa relies on these edibles most: Onion,Carrot, Potato, Tomato, Celery, Garlic, Parsley, Thyme, Basil, Dill, Raspberries, Strawberries, Blueberries and Apples. Should you share in my affinity for HRH, use this information as a culinary compass to fashion your own jardin potager.

In the meantime, I'm fit to be balled and burlaped. I'm afraid that it's back to the drafting board for me. As it turns out, my pint size seed sowers were slightly heavy handed during an epic seed dispersal activity. The fledgling boxwoods in my yard are now in hot competition for survival with their new neighbors,the beet family. Harvest is on the horizon and the logistics of operating a pressure canner are those that I'm not familiar with. If only Warhol was around to dole out pointers on his experience with canning.

Ya Dig?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bloom Bloom Plow

Winter's grasp has loosened it's grip and urns everywhere are being called on to showcase this anticipated climatic swing. Hydrangeas, ivy, boxwoods, geraniums, sedums .....too often, we rely on the safety net of these mephistos* to carry us through to first frost. My eye tends to gloss over these ubiquitous beauts just as quickly as my ear tunes out elevator music (unless of course, it's Babs). Attractive and catchy though they may be, but their overuse has sullied their value to subterranean servitude. Push up the daisies and dust off the millers. Reach for iconoclast status in the world of pot couture and oblige your nest with a new wave of planting proteges. I pursue undiscovered talent and plug untapped stars to ROCK my garden.

*mephisto: like the shoe, purely practical and comfortable but not at all innovative. Apologies in advance to my father.

Pointer Sisters:

1. Prior to lining your trunk with plastic sheeting and readying your hazard lights (garden smack for getting started), it is prudent to take stock of the existing conditions of the growing environment. Sun exposure is key in determining the type of plants that will thrive. Consider the scale of plantings you will need so that they can be appreciated from the approach and be proportioned to the vessel. Unless your house is down to the studs, texture and form of the plantings should not rival the architectural features of your home.

2. Your selection of container is just as important as the plantings. Keep with the pattern language of your home. Take cues from existing fixtures (lights, mailbox, fence detail) and maintain that style for continuity. Allow the plantings to take center stage and show your personality. I've got a crush on the traditional, classic and clean,white boxes used at Versailles. However, I'm a little more cape and a little less chateau. Yes, there is Restoration Hardware and you could blend in nicely with every other house on the block but check out these sites for something more je n'ais se quoi.
True artisans. The Farrow and Ball of potdome. You really can't go wrong.
Look for the funky high gloss containers in radiant colors.
Simple. Classic. Love mine.
This place looks like heaven and a flat in the parking lot would be a welcome excuse to linger longer.

3. Cue up the James Taylor because winter, spring, summer or fall you can increase your pot real estate with natural embellishments. Elevate the one hit wonder to stardom. Personally, smooth river rocks at the base of english lavender or scotchbroom with sheet moss looked great last year. Cocoa beans can infuse any approach. APPROPRIATELY shaded aquarium rocks (I shudder with relinquishing this artistic license) can add guts to a subdued color palette of green plantings . If your driveway is covered in pea gravel, consider extending this material to the bed of the pots. The same goes for crushed oyster shells. Sand and shells for the beach community are other alternatives. If you live where the sun don't shine think about growing your own moss collection. Look for the "Moss Milkshake", add pillow moss to an urn of interesting stones or craft them into bulbous forms.


1. Green Day: Color pairing inspirations can run the gamut. I cull mine from pages of fashion publications, Sotheby's catalogues and design magazines. Here are a couple of my favs that won't leave you tone deaf:

Red, Black and Grey

Black and Green

Purple and Red

Orange and Grey

Grey and Purple

Tone on tone with varying textures

2. Duran Duran: Just use ONE plant variety and plant it ad nauseum. This approach always registers a warm reception with me. A pot stuffed to the gills with either ichiban eggplant, purple headed cabbage, pony tail fern, kings gold cypress, artemesia silver mound, poker primrose, mugo pine, thistle sea holly, oh, and while I'm at it, may I also request brown paper packages tied up with string....a few of my favorite things.

3. Blackeyed Peas: Join Michelle Obama (and apparently the rest of North America) and nurture your own jardin potager. I find intrigue in purple headed cabbage, artichoke, lettuce and even broccoli. Burpee now sells vegetables and herbs that are "garden-ready" for instant gratification.

4. Men at Work: It's all about the nosegay. Consider using your urns as a cutting garden. Cultivate flowers that you would purchase for arrangements. Peonies look beautiful both in containers and indoors. Sow parsley, sage, rosemary and..... oregano to resource for your culinary creations.

5. Supertramp: If you are planting a hedge of smaller shrubs consider pimping a few extra out to your urns. In the event that you loose one from the row (a rogue lawnmower per se) you have replacements that will be guaranteed to match the size and species of the others.

6. Red Hot Chili Peppers: Rules are made to be broken and unexpected theatrics is fun. One of most favorite landscape architects at Harvard, Martha Schwartz once constructed a formal garden using bagels, colored pebbles and boxwoods. Brilliant! This is what I was thinking:

Paint large boulders high gloss silver, flame red or orange. Great conversation starters and extra seating at parties.

Fill a basket weave urn with river rocks and place a finial (my fav is the globe or acorn) or lantern atop (place an electric light within).

Pop Up Park: Fill galvanized containers with small fruit trees and create outdoor rooms. Construct a bosque or parterre. I'm entertaining this getup during the downtown sidewalk sale this summer. I'll take over a parking space, add some folding chairs and put up a business sign (or 2).

Topiary (everyone's a skeptic) check out what this guy can do with boxwood!


Let there be light! Stray from the traditional outdoor light selection and pick a new hue that adds punch to your tall urns....purple and lit from below?

The teach in is over. Enjoy your trip to the nursery and improvise. Please resist the hydrangea or at least pair it with a clutch of baby tomatoes. For the groupies (and you know who you are) who still have evergreen wreaths, white twinkle lights and red bows on display, some fodder to amp up your urning potential.

Ya Dig?

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Ina's Garden

Not long ago "gardening" called to mind back pain, farmer's tan, insect bites, certo stews and old ladies stock piling green tomato pickle. Somewhere along the way "organic" and "sustainability" were grafted to garden nomenclature and the list continues to swell.... "locavores"? Throw in a thriving and resilient recession and now, all hell has broken loose. How wrong can you go when a seed packet fetches $2.79? It's on Oprah's lips, cropping up in the Obama's back forty and around the corner from you at the Farmer's Market. The garden movement is gaining momentum. The New York Times estimated that 10 million people will plant gardens for the first time in 2009. Could it be that gardening is vogue?

Let's cast the Birkenstocks and compost journal aside for a moment and add design aesthetics to this renewed guise of gardening. As a trained landscape architect I'm intrigued with marrying food producing plantings with the existing engineered environment. The architecture of these edibles is fascinating; long stalks of artichoke, bulbous gourds pendulously posing toward the ground, the rhythm created by rows of delicate lettuce leaves, clumsy eggplants in formal urns and purple headed chives in a battle of scale with their cousins the alliums. These plants perform two tasks simultaneously; posing as cheeky but sophisticated accents in any landscape and providing a valuable food source. Purple cabbage heads would be an awesome spectacle tucked between my rows of boxwoods .....but come harvest, how much Borscht will I have to make as not to waste my bounty? (......And to make my Great Depression savvy granny, Phee proud. There is an entire story here that needs to be written on recycling bleach bottles into crochet panelled sunhats and the gentle art of reusing cellophane). But, back to the issue of Borscht and sustainability.

Before the ramps of spring appear I need to define an edible plant palette that will knit into my existing yard with an aesthetic nod to design and equal to the practical consumption of my brood. I hatched a plan. It was at this point that I do believe that my husband began to worry that the Chardonnay that I had given up for New Years was beginning to exhibit side effects of weird. What better way to illustrate the frequency of vegetables, herbs and fruits that are consumed in my house than to reference the recipes from which I cook!

I'm a Barefoot Contessa fan and the majority of my meals derive from Ina Garten's tomes. Each of her recipes are complete with a glossy photograph of the finished dish and a heartfelt commentary on the provenance of the recipe. I happily scoured each of her 6 volumes taking notes and tally of every vegetable, herb and fruit she referenced in EVERY SINGLE ONE OF HER RECIPES. Isn't it amazing what one can accomplish on the gym's treadmill? Yes, I ran and catalogued through the "Barefoot Contessa Cookbook", picked up the pace through "Parties!", "Back to Basics" saw me through mile five, I hunkered down through "Paris" and finally hit the homestretch for "At Home". Crossing the finish line with "Family Style" in hand and after seven miles I was hungry to feed my findings into Excel and see what would sprout up.

Before I divulge my findings, I will state a caveat- I did not make note of foods that would not prosper with ease in the Northeast (my plant zone). So, if you are reading this with a Kalik in hand or from your hammock in Key West, go find a treadmill and account for melons, the entire citrus family and don't forget the avocados.

My Ina findings were prolific and brilliantly displayed the high frequency combination of vegetables, herbs and fruit that would have the best chance for consumption in my jardin potager. What a delight! It was as if Ina herself (and perhaps Jeffery to help take the load to the car) were at Home Depot with me confidently plucking the envelopes from the enormous and overwhelming wall of seed packets. Pie charts would have been wonderfully fun and apropos to illustrate with but blogspot wasn't compatible with the likes of Excel. So, without getting too detailed, here's what I found.

The top five vegetable families in Ina's recipes were:

Onion: 133


Potato: 47



Ina's highest frequency of herbs were:




Basil: 38


Finally, fruits that were most sited were:


Strawberries: 22


Apples: 18

2010 is my breakout year. I too am joining the ranks with Old MacDonald, move on over Jolly Green Giant and make room for me Mary, Mary, I'm set to sow my own garden. Charged with sturdy statistics, I now feast on seed catalogues, armed with my foodie facts and consumption tendencies. I'm on a mission to introduce a working landscape of intoxicating intrigue into those rows of boxwoods. Ina references cabbages 8 times in her recipes. Perhaps I won't plant as much purple headed cabbage as I originally thought unless..... my Scottish family has plans to celebrate Oktoberfest through Independence Day.

Ya dig?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

My Funny Valentine

Logs of Love....

from your tree hugger.

Ya dig?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Apple of my eye

When I originally procured my Apple itouch phone I thought it to be a nifty little contraption that not only allowed me to remotely collect emails and map me through the backroads of Bedford but also entertained my children at the doctor's, I was sold. Now a year later, I am only realizing it's greater has superseded my wallet in pocketbook hierarchy! Beyond turning into a lightsaber or "shazamming" songs, it is also a fountain of knowledge to match your list of exterior queries.

On a recent perusal through the apps store and features setting on my handheld (read: Holy Grail) I compiled a list of a couple of my favs:

Camera: Capture images of plantings you like while on holiday, good looking pillows to keep in mind for next Spring or snap a few of your prized thistles to share on your next coffee with Martha.

Ben Color Capture: Take a photo of a color you like and the app will find it for you on Benjamin Moore's color wheel. This beats leaving a note for a neighbor requesting the paint particulars of their shutters and shingles.....thank you again Sally!

Color Snap: Same theory as above but will locate the color on the Sherwin Williams color wheel.

Farmers Market Finder: YUM. What a great idea. Heading off in the RV this summer for a little R and R- taste and savor the local produce along your way....hey, start a blog while your at it (and there is probably an app for that too)!

Florafolio- Native Plant List for the Northeast. I am constantly asked about Natives and this is a great tool to make sure Town property isn't covered in bamboo by year end. (I would hope by now, you realize when I'm joking.)

ilocate: For locating outdoor furniture shops. Who knew?

ivideocamera: This one is very clever and I have my friend Natalie to thank for introducing it to me. It will turn your icamera into a video camera. Now you can capture Martha's expression when you show her your photo compendium of prized thistles!

Trees Near You: Liriodendron tulipifera, Paulownia tomentosa, Platanus x acerifolia.....what is a girl to do? This app identifies the tree species nearest you in San Francisco also has this app. Sit tight and I'm sure that the app engineers in cyberspace are finding a way to code your city/the globe/the Milky Way as we speak.

US State Trees: Great for a long drive when one more Taylor Swift chorus will simply do you in....or just the ticket for a RV trip...see above!

Help yourself to my findings and let me know if you have any good ones too. My sincerest apologies for boring the blackberry readership to tears, get next week's dirt on Valentines Day.
Ya Dig?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Take Off Eh?

The 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games commence with global applause on February 12 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Are you readying your loonies, your toonies, your Sorels and toques too happy anticipation of rink side Nanaimo bars washed down with mugs of hot cocoa? Maybe an Apolo sighting? Perhaps your game plan includes taking in the action from home. Your favorite spot on the couch, relaxing a la lulu lemon and enjoying the lengthy commercial breaks?
Whatever your venue, Vancouver's abundance of green spoils is sure to become readily apparent and should be merited. The City's practice of employing sustainability, enhancing public spaces, using green technology and land preservation is both impressing and inspiring.
Pair this idyllic stage with an overwhelming sense of global citizenry, community, patriotism, pride and ....shoot, how many more days until the Games begin?
To heighten our anticipation of the Games and enrich our Olympic experience here is a snap shot of my Gold Medal picks of Vancouver's green beauties.

Stanley Park: Pick up a box of Smarties, a Flake bar and C Plus and take a stroll through this treasure. This evergreen attraction is vital to Vancouver's city life. Comparable to Manhattan's Central Park, and only 16 years older, this outdoor space caters to the city with offerings of recreation, arts and wildlife. Find out more at:

Capilano Suspension Bridge: My knees were knocking on this excursion and surprisingly my deep love for terra firma did not keep me in the car. Imagine the feeling halfway through when the 12 year old child ahead of you starts jumping to create waves! Visit the link below to take in this awesome experience. For more information visit

Queen Elizabeth Park and Arboretum: What a beaut! This park began as a basalt quarry and was eventually turned into a arboretum complete with over 3000 trees and boasts the highest point in Vancouver. Dining facilities and recreation facilities contribute to the scene as well as a stunning Henry Moore sculpture garden. Learn more at:

Vancouver's Convention Centre: This harbor front structure supports Canada's largest green roof. It spans six acres and is home to more than 400,000 indigenous plantings. Genius. While promoting sustainability, it collects rainwater and lowers the temperature of the structure and it's surroundings. A well curated palette of plantings has turned this urban carpet into a mecca for birds and insects. While it is not accessible to the public, the roof does have a slight pitch offering a great view from the plaza. To learn more visit:
Worth honorable mention is Vancouver's Public Library which also has a roof garden flanked above the Moshe Safdie-designed structure. To learn more visit:

Museum of Anthropology: Designed by famed Canadian architect, Arthur Erickson the museum sits on the University of British Columbia campus. Residing over the Strait of Georgia, it stands as an iconic arrangement of glass and steel. The best feature are the nearby totem poles which contribute to the drama of the space and nod to the Native American heritage of Vancouver. Don't miss taking in the simple landscape palette that was conceived by notable landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander which includes gravel beds, grasses and native plantings. To learn more visit:

If you digested that with lightening speed and the heights of the Capilano Suspension Bridge didn't leave you Squamish....learn more about Vancouver and British Columbia at: or

One last suggestion. Why not bring a little bit of the Olympic experience home. Treat yourself to an amuse bouche. Instead of your "lugeable" cup of Joe, go to for a true Canadian tradition and order up some of Tim Horton's finest coffee. Play Wii's Vancouver Olympic Games and feel the thrill of being in the Pacific Coliseum. Download the free ipod app on itunes called "See Vancouver". Oh, and for an authentic touch, try this recipe for a great Nanaimo bar:
Ya dig?
Get next week's dirt on Apples.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Human Nature

I lived in New York City at a time in my life when MacLaren and Peg Perego referred to my go to set of wheels. The shoe leather express was the easiest form of transportation and allowed Junior and I to explore the great city with bliss and efficiency. Generally. Like anything you do repeatedly in life, pet peeves develop or, in this case, you transform into ....a New Yorker.

It would drive me bananas when fellow pedestrians stopped in the middle of rush hour foot traffic or at bustling street corners to have a conversation. Folks all over the city had this tendency not just the holiday tourists on Fifth Avenue (now that I am safely ensconced in Connecticut, I can only imagine the spectacle in front of the Apple Store)! Why couldn't they take a few steps to the side and let woman and child get to music class?

I have the answer and we are all guilty. Human nature. We like to have the maximum choice of decision to splinter from organization or stay. Getting jabbed and snarled at by people navigating around you is far better than committing to a conversation and getting stuck off to the side by the fire hydrant with your Super. William Whyte wrote an excellent book based on his research on "The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces". His findings continue to fascinate and entertain.

Why do the most successful outdoor spaces have the highest percentage of women inhabitants- as a gender, we are more discriminating as to where we will sit and more alert to the potential dangers around us. It makes perfect sense but I love when you add the food vendor coefficient. Food attracts people, who attract more people who signal to a female, safety in numbers. There is a strong link between design and human nature that is not always realized.

When I worked for the New York City Housing Authority in the Landscape Architecture Department we were responsible for ground improvements with particularly interesting approaches to design. Doe-eyed and fresh off the bus from Cambridge, my Harvard education had led me to believe that public open space should always be lit at night signally a safe place for human interaction to unfold. In this situation however, undesirables would use this light to conduct well, "business" (and you know what I mean). To add light to these areas and add a false sense of security to such open spaces would prove to be a huge design flaw. On site visits we witnessed handiwork of vigilantes, who as a means to spare children from the dangers of lit areas would have literally shot the power lines to smithereens. In dim light, the undesirables couldn't decipher the money denominations to finalize their transactions and therefore, opened up shop in better lit conditions, making the neighborhood far safer. I know what you are thinking. But, it didn't seem appropriate and the moment never right for me to shoulder tap them with my brilliant recommendation that they should conduct business in Canadian currency.

Grand Central Station...are you a door opener? Most people are not. Given the option, non door openers will even get in queue two to three people deep to avoid having to open an unused door themselves. It's important to note that Whyte figured this out in the 70's before Germ-X, Purell or the eruption of Swing Flu. The next time you are at a department store chances are that you will wait your turn in line and select the busy revolving door already in motion rather than forge your way to a stile at's not coincidence, I'll let it go this time if it's because of the nasty rash on THAT guy's face....but I really think that it's human nature. Fascinating.

Ya Dig?

Check out upcoming dirt on Vancouver 2010.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Baby it's cold outside....

Warm up inside the pages of landscape and garden literature and bask in the images of green grass and summer blooms. Tear sheets out or make notes of plantings you like, smart space planning, ideas for exterior paint colors or good looking outdoor furniture. Come spring you have a great reference tool to get you started on creating the outdoor room you covet. My sister-in-law and I have done this for years and are constantly referencing and adding to our library.

Inspiration doesn't have to derive from garden tomes. Vogue Magazine has sophisticated color palette combinations and New York Magazine has clever ideas for small outdoor spaces.

As a landscape designer, it's a great departure point when my client presents me with a compendium of visuals to convey their style. I can then piece together a cohesive silhouette that fits with their lifestyle, plant zone and taste.

Don't be shy. Take those tear sheets to a garden center and have the staff identify mystifying plant stock or source the outdoor fixtures Heidi and Seal have in their backyard.

Treat yourself to these resources and get started on defining your own Shangri-La:
Architectural Digest
Canadian House and Home
Elle Decor
Garden Design Magazine
Landscape Architecture Magazine

Ya dig?

Get the Upcoming Dirt on the psychology of public open space and if you are headed to the Olympic Games, Vancouver's abundance of greener spoils.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

ya dig?