Past the stone walls of the Museum of Modern Art at PS1 and up the gated stairs is a hidden gem.
The museum’s rooftop garden has been revitalized with a new salad garden featuring heirloom vegetables and unusual herbs, including salad burnet, savory, saltwort and epazote.
The project is the brainchild of urban farmer Camilla Hammer and blogger Julia Sherman, who operates the site Salad for President, a platform for conversations and collaborations with creative minds who share a passion for greens.
As the natural perfume of basil fills your nostrils, it becomes easy to forget the garden sits atop one of the oldest pubic school buildings in Queens.
It is a refreshing transition from the dark halls of the PS1 galleries, and while it is not itself an exhibit, the rooftop garden provides a spectacular view of the Queensboro Bridge, the No. 7 train, the Citigroup building and the Manhattan skyline.
Hammer and Sherman created a new drip-irrigation system and used local materials for much of the gardening.
Mulch was made from reused cocoa nib shells from Brooklyn’s Mast Brothers chocolate company.
The shells are a byproduct of chocolate production and are a sustainable resource and breakdown and encourage soil bacteria, while also giving off a pleasant scent.
The soil was brought in from Long Island Compost while Silver Heights Farm, located in upstate Jeffersonville, supplied plans and Hudson Valley Seed Library provided seeds.
After a lot of pruning and watering, the garden has transformed from a mere handful of plants sprouting from boxes to a lush oasis where visitors can pluck tomatoes from the vine for a taste.
The salad garden follows organic gardening principles, including companion planting and integrated pest management.
“Selected plant varieties are especially suited for rooftop and container gardening,” the program’s description reads. “Our growing medium is a mixture of organic potting soil, compost and perlite to ensure a well-drained and fertile garden through the season.
“A wide variety of unusual herbs and vegetables have been selected for this garden, highlighting what can be eaten fresh from the ground, unprocessed, seasonal and homegrown.”
Highlights include four varieties of mint — chocolate, apple, orange and peppermint — medicinal herbs, fruiting plants, including squash, sweet peppers, cucumbers and ground cherries, and salad greens.
Sherman has been documenting her work as one of the MoMA PS1 gardeners on her website over the course of the summer.
The blogger has challenged chefs to compose a salad using ingredients from the garden and the resulting recipes, photos and interviews are shared on her site saladforpresident.com.
One such recipe is Ryan Foerster’s spicy fruit salad, which uses ingredients the chef had available the day he prepared it.
He uses apples, grapes, mint, pea shoots, shiso and spicy pepper, though Foerster notes watermelon would work better than grapes.
In addition, M. Wells Dinette, the restaurant on the first floor of the museum, has gotten in on the project. The exotic eatery set up a refreshment station and seating area just next to the garden.
But the project is not only intended to be aesthetically pleasing; Hammer and Sherman designed it with the idea of creating a space where museum visitors and staff can interact with one another.
MoMA PS1 encourages visitors to take photos and share their experiences on social media by using several hashtags, including: #MoMAPS1, #SaladGarden and #SaladonRoof.