Monday, February 18, 2013

Art of the Heirloom: Cultural Seed Savers

Friday night I attended the opening of the exhibit Art of the Heirloom: Cultural Seed Savers at The Horticultural Society of New York. I heard about it through the Hudson Valley Seed Library's Seeder's Digest (love that!) e-mail newsletter. I admit to being a bit shocked, because I had never heard of the Horticultural Society of New York.

Half of the reason that I started this blog was that it seemed like very few people were online talking about urban gardening in New York City. I had spent a lot of time searching for information about gardening in New York City, and somehow I had never encountered the Horticultural Society, which is a shame, because it seems like an awesome place, and I can't wait to attend more of their events in the future.

The exhibit features the original artwork commissioned by the Seed Library for their art packs, seed packs featuring said original artwork. I'm no art critic, but I loved the agriculturally themed artwork, and I was fascinated to see the many different ways in which artists could interpret seeds and plants. The exhibit included everything from intricate botanical drawing, to abstract pieces, to very literal interpretations of the names of vegetable varieties like the Upstate Oxheart Tomato or King of the North Pepper. (Imagine how you'd interpret those, and then check out the artists' takes on the HVSL website - or better yet, at the exhibit, which is open through March 8!)

I was intrigued to notice a clever piece (the illustration for the Shaghai Baby Bok Choy) by Natalie Merchant. The name didn't register with me at first, but then I noticed that the artist's bio read "Natalie Merchant has earned the reputation for being a songwriter of great quality and a compelling live performer. She calls the fertile Hudson Valley her home, where she has been busy gardening and seed saving for 25 years." Could the painting be by that Natalie Merchant? My husband Ben (my husBen) thought it was obvious. "It says she's a songwriter!" I thought it too weird. Probably just some local singer and painter whose name happens to be Natalie Merchant, right? As it turns out, the Wikipedia entry for Natalie Merchant (the Natalie Merchant) says that she "likes gardening and painting," which is enough to make me admit that Ben was right, and that Natalie Merchant! designed the art pack for the baby bok choy.

Mid-90s singer-songwriters aside, the artwork in this exhibit touches on every imaginable facet of vegetable gardening - the culinary, the aesthetic, the botanical, the cultural, the linguistic - and is definitely worth seeing if any of these interest you.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Garden 2012

Last year, I began my gardening project with plans to have a few containers on my balcony, but soon realized that my plans were bigger than my deck. We have rooftop access - at least I think that's the intention, as the door's not locked and some people keep chairs up there, but no one mentioned it when we were shown the apartment or when we signed the lease, and it took 4 or 5 months of living here for us to realize it. I wasn't sure whether I was using the roof legitimately, but since no one seemed inclined to stop me, I went ahead and installed my motley crew of potted vegetables there in the spring.

Rooftop garden

They look a rather humble there, a random assortment of repurposed containers I found on the street, and official flower pots I bought on sale or "borrowed" from my parents . . . without telling them.

Tiny Tim Tomatoes, with Basil in the foreground

This time with flash

Sweet Salad Peppers
One morning, on my way up to water my plants on the roof, I ran into one of the guys who works for the building's owner. I asked if it was okay for me to keep plants on the roof, and he told me it was fine. "Just don't get locked out." Now, given that the door is never locked, it had never even occurred to me that it might lock behind me - but he seemed to think that not only was it potentially conceivable, but that it was likely, that it would happen unless I took precautions. So now I try the doorknob from both sides every time I venture onto the roof, and even though it is clearly unlocked, every time, I never let the door shut behind me.

My garden last year consisted of Tiny Tim Tomatoes (which were kind of boring), Sweet Salad Peppers (which tasted good, but were so small I couldn't figure out how I was supposed to use them . . . in salads, I guess), carrots, beets, collards, baby bok choy, scallions, and a pot of basil I bought at the Farmers' Market. It was mostly a success, but also very much a learning experience, and I can only hope to do better next year!