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?