Imagine vertical walls of herbs, ranging from thyme to coriander, lining the outside circle of an inner garden where vegetables from bulls’ blood beets to maroon sweet peas rotate and grow year round. Through each circle, a walkway connects each to the other, guided by blueberry bushes, figs and blackberries, until a cascading water wall beckons you to an expansive outdoor kitchen under an arbored terrace.
Meanwhile, rows of fledgling apple and crab apple trees, including a rare Arkansas Black, blossom in the east corner of the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Not more than a year ago, the ground below this edible garden was asphalt.
“We’ve gone from asphalt to asparagus,” said Mary Pat Matheson, the Garden’s executive director.
As part of a $55 million green expansion that includes the Canopy Walk and Cascades Garden features, the $2 million Edible Garden project, which opens May 1, rides the successful coattail of the popularity of the nation’s sustainable food movement. It brings mini crop circles and an amphitheater of vegetables, herbs and fruits culminating in an outdoor kitchen with an oven and fireplace for Garden visitors.
The Edible Garden features an outdoor kitchen where chefs will be invited to cook and teach, and many of the vegetables and fruits, when not used for the Garden’s café, will be donated to the Atlanta Community Food Bank. First up is good food guru Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene, and cooking demonstrations and wine pairings will continue throughout summer and fall.
“What’s old is new again,” Matheson said, “we’ve become so disconnected from our food in this country – particularly in Georgia. The Edible Garden will give us the chance to teach and inspire Atlantans – especially schoolchildren – about where food comes from. We learn so much more from experiencing – seeing, hearing, tasting.”
The idea of turning the Garden’s former one-acre parking area into a potential food feast sprouted from a conversation between Matheson and Mildred Pinnell Fockele, the Garden’s horticulture director, who fondly remembered a vegetable garden within the Garden at one time. The expansion of the new parking deck in conjunction with Piedmont Park made the Garden’s existing parking area obsolete, so Matheson decided to capitalize on the growing trend of urban edible gardens.
“Edible gardens are the next wave in national gardening,” Matheson said.
And though their planning was pre-Michelle Obama, the first lady’s interest in inspiring better health habits and her much-touted garden on the White House lawn hasn’t hurt the Botanical Garden’s push to make the Edible Garden a reality.
“Edible gardens are a very hot trend right now,” explained Matheson. Within that, she said, are the returning art of espaliers and pruning, as well as vertical gardens and small crop circles – all of which are included in the design by AECOM, Axios Architecture and Tres Fromme of MESA Design Group.
The team had lots of input from the ever-present and tenacious Matheson, who has shepherded the Garden through the phenomenal success of Dale Chihuly's glass sculpture exhibit in 2004, the “Moore in America” exhibit last year and the collapse of the then under-construction Canopy Walk in 2008 that killed one worker and injured 18 others. The Canopy Walk will open on May 1.
"Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance." That quote from Epicurious is etched above the stone of the outdoor oven. With the Edible Garden, Atlanta is in for some great abundance.
Opens Saturday, May 1, with festivities from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be a visitors’ parade across the Canopy Walk, led by Atlanta’s own Seed and Feed Marching Abominable and in the Edible Garden adults can sample one of three cooking demonstrations offered throughout the day. On the Great Lawn, children can burn off some energy with fun exercises led by the Cardio Kids, or they can venture into the Children’s Garden for storytelling in the amphitheater.
All activities are free with Garden admission, and food and drink will be available for purchase. For details, go to www.atlantabotanicalgarden.org. The Garden, located at 1345 Piedmont Ave. N.E., is open 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday from April through October and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday from November through March. Admission is $15 adults, $12 seniors and children 3-17, free to children under three and Garden members. For information, call 404-876-5859. And upcoming in May, edible garden and food writing guru Rosalind Creasy will give a free lecture on edible landscaping on May 12 at 7 p.m.
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