Welcome back to Up on the Rooftop, a monthly column by Melissa Peterman, who gets up close and personal with Seattle's mile-high club in the form of (mostly) rooftop gardens.
[Photos: S. Pratt]
One of the most beautiful and unassuming restaurant patios in Seattle belongs to Poppy. Chef-owner Jerry Traunfeld, who was the executive chef at The Herbfarm for 17 years, has created a stunning herb garden that doubles as a buffer between the restaurant and a parking lot/gas station. Talk about urban gardening.
Half of the garden was already built by the time Poppy opened in the fall of 2008. The following summer, Jerry added the second half of it.
It's fun. I love being out here. It's sort of my retreat from the kitchen. The herbs are a big payoff. I use a lot of herbs and it's possible to produce enough herbs in this space for a restaurant this size. And it's also something that's so much better when it's cut fresh; it's a real luxury to be able to do that.
Poppy's herb garden has more than two dozen varieties of herbs. Sunset Magazine recently did a story on the restaurant's herb garden because of some of the unique varieties that he grows.
All the unusual things: lovage, lemon verbena, caraway thyme, orange thyme, chervil. A lot of the things you can't get from Charlie's produce, like scented geraniums. Sometimes I'll grow some Peppercress, but that's kind of like an herb (similar to watercress but it doesn't grow in water). It's a peppery salad green.
The amount of herbs that show up on the menu depends on the season. In the winter, the kitchen crew uses more spices and fewer herbs, and in early summer, about 75-percent of the things they cook include something from the herb garden. And while there's not much to chose from in the fall, Jerry harvests herbs through November, depending on the weather. After that, he'll buy his herbs until Spring arrives.
We use herbs in desserts extensively and the bar uses all kinds of things. We do a lot of syrups for the non- alcoholic drinks. If you go to the bar at night, [the bartender] always has little glasses full of sprigs — lavender and fennel, lovage, scented geranium, rosemary — they're all used for cocktails.
When asked if he was surprised by the yields of the garden this year: "You can get a lot out of it, but I plant really intensely. I add compost every spring. Everything is really close together; it's like a giant flowerpot so you have to keep on adding to the soil."
He says the biggest chore is cutting stuff back. Everything grows into each other and grows too big.
I just gave a big bag of thyme to Altura a few weeks ago. Everything's cyclical. I'll plant chervil and when that's over, I'll put basil in. And not just in the spring — it's constant replanting.
There are six tables on the patio, so appearance in addition to production is equally important to Jerry, as is location (planting lavender and scented geraniums near the tables).
Thinking of expanding? Jerry laughs, and says he doesn't have anywhere to go. "I wish I had five times more space. As much as I'd like to take over the parking lot, it's not mine to take over. "
He's thought about having a larger garden elsewhere but he loves having it all right here.
The herbs are so much better when they are fresh like this. You get to use the different parts of the plants, like the flowers, and you get to grow unusual things. And for the staff, it's really nice for them to come out here and take a little break and harvest herbs and pick flowers. And the guests really get a lot out of it too.