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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