August 11th, 2010
10:29 AM ET
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"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.

Dan Dilworth and Kevin Denton have day jobs, and busy ones at that. As sous chef and manager, respectively, at Maialino and the Roof Club and Garden, the pair had plenty on their plates with day to day restaurant operations as well as special events. But in February, when they saw the unused, black tar roof, just a level above the club, an idea took root.

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."

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soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. the Leafs jersey

    Direct womens Suns shirts with Paypal
    the Leafs jersey

    June 23, 2014 at 4:04 am |
  2. Crystian

    It's a great way for persons who live in cities to get into gardening and reduce their food bill. I think I'm going to be doing a page soon about rooftop gardening on my site...

    September 24, 2010 at 9:33 am |
  3. kd8ar

    Photo #3 is the Chrysler Building NOT the Empire State Building!!

    August 16, 2010 at 5:15 pm |
    • Dave1955

      It doesn't say the Empire State Building; it says the Empire State. That is the nickname of the state of New York.

      August 16, 2010 at 10:20 pm |
    • PEK

      I was thinking the same thing when I read that caption. But I think it must have referred to NY state...not the building.

      August 16, 2010 at 10:57 pm |
    • rates

      This really answered my problem, thank people!

      August 31, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  4. abi

    are they organic

    August 16, 2010 at 2:28 pm |
  5. LaRofromNorthAL

    Would love to see this sort of thing happen all over New York & other cities ! One thing, though – in slide #8 those "tomatoes" look more like peppers to me. Tomatoes have compound leaves with a 'fuzzy' surface – those are glossy & simple. And tomatoes are vines by nature, not so shrubby.

    August 12, 2010 at 10:53 am |
  6. Vicki

    Congratulations to Kevin & Dan on doing your part in trying to recycle so many things that would normally go to the dumpster. It's a great thing you are trying to do.

    August 12, 2010 at 8:22 am |
  7. Billy Joe Jim Bob

    Healthy Ny rainwater!

    August 11, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
    • themoviegame

      Hey, Bill Bob, go shove it, eh?

      September 29, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  8. Mary

    LOVE this idea!!! I hope gardens like this one become the norm!

    August 11, 2010 at 1:59 pm |
  9. Elahe Akhavan

    You might be interested.

    August 11, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
  10. SMAN

    it's not what you eat, but how much of it you eat. Have you ever seen an obese 90 year old??? Not likely.

    August 11, 2010 at 11:56 am |
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