Review: The Edible Garden
Martha Stewart Mojito, Hands-On Plots at N.Y. Botanical Garden
Review by Robin D. Schatz

July 27 (Bloomberg) — My first vegetable garden sprawled across our front lawn in suburban New Jersey.

My husband and I brazenly tended tomatoes, string beans and eggplants curbside, while our neighbors cut their weed-free grass. It was 1978 and we felt counterculture; they found us amusing.

These days, growing your own food is de rigueur, even patriotic (witness Michelle Obama’s organic garden on the White House lawn). So the timing couldn’t be better for the New York Botanical Garden’s new summerlong festival, “The Edible Garden.”

Vegetable and herb plants don’t have the inherent pizzazz of the botanical garden’s extravagant annual displays of, say, orchids or Dutch tulips. Still, the exhibits prove edible plants are pretty enough to put in plain sight, and the 250-acre spread, with many shady spots, is a fine place to stroll on a sunny day.

The botanical garden also has arranged guest appearances to spice things up. Martha Stewart has already visited, and still to come are cooking demos with Emeril Lagasse (Sept. 12) or Lidia Bastianich (Sept. 13). Bette Midler, champion of public gardens in New York, narrates the audio tour, along with chef Mario Batali.

Not Preachy

The Edible Garden avoids preachiness, even with its implicit environmental message to eat local and grow sustainably. The exhibits range from the classy — a formal herb garden designed by Stewart — to the homespun, a plot designed entirely of heirloom varieties that come from saving seeds.

You can buy your own seed packets in the garden’s shop with instructions for collecting seeds from your own plants. Gardening workshops are taking place all summer, and there’s a giant children’s vegetable plot where kids do what they do best — get dirty — while learning something.

Indoors, at the garden’s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, there’s a display of tropical edibles, from coffee and coconuts to passionfruit and acai. At the LuEsther T. Mertz Library, you can peruse the history of vegetable gardening during the two world wars.

The show’s a learning experience — even if you know your beans from your basil. It was news to me that the yarrow blooming in my country garden does as well in a salad as in a vase. Whole Foods Market Inc. chef Dan Rothman proved the point with a rainbow chard slaw, topped with a yarrow-berry vinaigrette of tiny white flowers and fresh strawberries. I could taste summer in every bite.

Martha’s Martini

I particularly liked Stewart’s redesign of the historical herb garden, changing its focus from medicinal to culinary specimens. It’s somewhat formal and quite elegant, integrating the garden’s existing boxwood with an array of edible herbs and some impressively tall cardoon (more veggie than herb; you can boil the stalks). Old standbys like basil are joined by the tropical stevia, whose leaves yield up a natural, no-calorie sweetener.

Stewart showed how to make her purple basil mojito and a “Martha-tini.” The mojito calls for “muddling” the basil leaves with a lime wedge in a tumbler. Add ice, rum, simple syrup and a splash of club soda.

I missed her demonstrations but I might give them a try some lazy summer day when my herbs are getting unruly and climbing out of their beds.

“The Edible Garden” is on view through Sept. 13 at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Information: More Stewart recipes using herbs are at

(Robin D. Schatz is an editor for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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