"Kevin, wake up! We have a radish."
As the Gramercy Park Hotel's rooftop vegetables were first coming into flower, its three principal gardeners made no bones about delivering midnight progress reports on their crop. A lot can go wrong for novices on standard terrain - let alone those attempting to cultivate lovage, patty pan squash and chiogga beets many stories above the streets of Manhattan - so the trio make a point of sharing their triumphs as well as the losses.
The pair began scouring the historic building, recently overhauled by Ian Schraeger, to reclaim whatever materials they could find - a duck roaster, old flooring, wine boxes, a paper shredder, linens - to transform the barren space into viable space to grow vegetables, herbs and fruit for the club and restaurant downstairs.
After securing some cash, and the enthusiastic partnership of Executive Chef Nick Anderer, the newly-minted farmers began delving into the world of seeds, many from online resources like Seed Savers Exchange. They faced a dual challenge: could they indulge their collective passion for unusual, rarely seen specimens like cucumelons and red okra, while also taking into account the high wind conditions, water needs and extreme heat of a New York City summer, so high above the ground?
Undaunted, Dilworth, Denton and Anderer harvested a battered shredder, disused wine buckets and old sauce pots as planters for the seedlings they'd cultivated in cut-apart water bottles. They then fashioned an irrigation system that feeds rainwater from the building's downspout into a reclaimed 55-gallon grease drum, and into beds lined with old tablecloths from the restaurant.
They knew they were onto something when the bugs arrived of their own accord - first aphids, then a curative crew of ladybugs to tend to the invasion. The others, they imported. Namely 1,500 worms that break down the building's vegetable waste in compost bins made of repurposed flooring and the top of a duck roaster left over from the restaurant's previous incarnation as Wakiya, an upscale Chinese venue.
It's an incredible amount of constant tending, but the opportunity to serve lovingly hand-grown produce is paramount to the three restaurant veterans. "We don't grow 100% of what we serve," says Denton, "but we serve 100% of what we grow."
Dilworth is delighted with the garden's progress and is constantly dreaming of expansion plans, as he know this opportunity is rare in the New York City restaurant world. "Serving someone a pea you just picked, with the shoot on one end and the flower on the other? You just can't buy that."