Taking on the Top Chef Garden
“This weedy garden has to be ready for filming in one week? Sure, I can do that..”
This spring I had the opportunity to be the gardener for Season 16 of Top Chef. I love the show and was so excited it would be held in my home state! When the Kentucky Department of Tourism put Top Chef’s producers in touch with me I jumped at the chance to be involved. I know Kentucky’s farmers and artisans are the backbone of this community and I couldn’t wait to show off what we had to offer.
Little did I know what I had gotten myself into.
The cast house was a beautiful estate that had been unoccupied for some time. While the home was stunning, the garden had been untended for more than seven years. That’s seven years of weeds going to seed and unfriendly grass rhizomes creeping like fingers across the beds.
I only had one week to prepare the garden so I had to put on my farmer thinking cap. It was important to me to tackle the garden in a biodynamic way - by looking at the whole picture. My first task was to build up the soil. Fresh Start Growers Supply provided compost and I called upon Foxhollow’s resident biodynamics experts - Laura Riccardi Lyvers and my mom, Janey, for advice on biodynamic preps. It was essential to observe the garden after each step and think about how to move forward. Rushing without pause to learn would have been a disaster.
The filming season was short so the producers needed me to grow things fast! The only way to accomplish this was with balance. If one part of the garden wasn’t doing well, it could affect everything else. On the flip side, one plant could boost others. For example, I needed fruit to fruit quicker – and planting zinnias around the borders would bring pollinators to the garden to help.
One of the biggest challenges I faced was not knowing the garden’s history. I didn’t know what had grown there, what might have been added (good or bad), or what pests might threaten it. I had to rely on instinct and a few good years of working knowledge to help it thrive.
Luckily, I had a community of experts and supporters at my side to balance out my skills as I worked to balance the garden. Our head herdsman, Derek, helped me anticipate where deer and animal pests might come from and put up appropriate fencing. To make the greenhouse look extra lush, I got amazing starts from Pavel’s Garden, Starview Nursery, Fresh Start Growers Supply, and Jared (of Duck Duck Beet) to supplement what I had raised from seed. Natural Products supplied the mulch for the bed where I “wrote” TOP CHEF in flowers. I don’t know what I would have done without the Foxhollow team who helped me till the ground, weed, prune, and keep my own farm afloat while I worked on this project.
Once the garden was planted, it was time to meet the cast…I’ll tell you more about that in January. Until then, don’t miss an episode. You never know when Foxhollow & our friends might show up!
Wishing you a cozy winter,