Over the weekend I participated in a tour of Rick Bayless' Urban/Edible garden with a group of garden bloggers from across the country that were visiting Chicago. I don't think the word 'garden' does Rick's place justice; perhaps "oasis," "farm" or "Eden" would be a better word to describe it. The garden is tended by Rick Bayless' full-time gardener, Bill Shores & his wife Lori. I won't post all of the pictures I took from that day, I'll add some to the Chicago Garden Flickr group. If you're gardening in Chicago join the group and contribute photos to the pool.
After watching Rick's show, Mexico: One Plate at a Time, on Channel 11, my initial reaction to the garden was one of disappointment.
That all went away when it dawned on me that I was expecting the perfection of television. Have you ever seen a celebrity in person and thought they didn't look as good as they do on television? That's what happened to me when I entered the garden, now that I've had time to reflect on it I see things different and want to visit it again without the pressure of helping move a group around.
The garden, really more of a working urban farm, produces $20,000 worth of crops that are used in Mr. Bayless' restaurants. To grow that much produce they spend $3,000 on seeds every year. The urban edible garden sits on three city lots in the Bucktown neighborhood, but the area used for agriculture is a pretty standard-sized backyard in Chicago, at least compared to the ones I've seen. Bill Shores takes advantage of the garden's microclimates to plant lettuce three times a year. It gets planted pretty close to one of the houses that provides shade and cool surroundings during the summer heat.
The vegetable garden is organic and the compost bin is said to produce 40 wheelbarrows of compost during the growing season.
The rows of vegetables planted to the right you can see raised beds and in the area in the back with the lattice wall looks to be a staging area for hardening off plants or to hold extras. To the right along the wall there are more raised beds with support systems for what I assume will be tomato plants because I didn't get to that area. In the far corner of the raised bed along the wall there is a spot for Nopales and other desert plants. I didn't notice it while I was there because I didn't think we could walk into that area, and only spotted them when editing pictures for this post. I chuckled because I remembered Phil Ponce, anchor of Chicago Tonight on Channel 11, tweeting that he was planting "garden cactus" while it was snowing in April.
The wall you see in the pictures isn't part of the Bayless fortress to keep the family safe from rabid foodies and gardening groupies, it is actually part of the Bloomingdale Trail.
Bill Shores mentioned that he and Rick Bayless have plans to convert the wall into something usable to grow even more food. I wonder how Ben Helphand's vision of the Bloomingdale Trail will impact, if at all, the plans to bring the wall to life in the future. For now you can see that the abandoned tracks look planted to provide some privacy from the neighbors. Up on the deck there are a number of window boxes that are also used to grow food. Below the deck a collected of potted plants and you just may be able to make out the potted banana tree against the wall. If I remember correctly there was a worm bin in the space between the house and the wall and I don't know why it made me smile to think they had a worm bin there but it did.
My initial reaction to seeing the garden was rather jaded, but looking over my photos and thinking about it; I'm in awe of the garden and what has been accomplished in an urban environment. While my backyard isn't as big as this one I could replicate something similar to it and I have to say I'm pretty inspired to do it.
If you're looking to be inspired take a tour of this urban/edible
garden, farm, oasis, Eden sometime. Bill Shores conducts tours of the location in the spring and summer. Although, you'll have to wait until 2010 because it is booked for this year. I feel lucky to have gotten a chance to see it this year.
I wonder if they get that farming tax credit and if Phil Ponce does tours of his garden.
P.S. To the garden bloggers who visited for Chicago Spring Fling: Michael Thompson, of the Chicago Honey Co-Op and Chicago Tomato Fest, whom you may have met at the Lurie garden used to work for Rick Bayless and started this garden.