By Raymond Badach
“A rose is a rose is a rose.” When Gertrude Stein was asked what she meant by this, she basically said that when it comes down to it, a thing is what it is. That may be true, but a rose is pretty special for many reasons. They smell great, they feel like velvet, they come in all colors and sizes, and they even manage to look beautiful when they start to lose their petals. Some other horticultural words that are important to every gardener: annual, perennial, and biennial. Most weekend gardeners know all about annuals, those bright flowers that give it their all every spring and summer and then die out and never return. The perennial is the avid gardener’s staple since these plants come back every year bigger and stronger (unless you have a winter like the one we just had). The biennial is a confusing plant, which really should be called, “Are You Really Going to Come Back in Two Years?”
You probably don’t ever think about it, but flowers are a big part of the restaurant business. I was always inspired by the flowers in certain NYC restaurants, not to mention the colossal displays at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My wife and I used to love to go to Provence in Soho and were always happy to see those bright blue window boxes with red geraniums. They also had a beautiful garden room. When you dined there, you could swear you were in Paris or at least New Orleans.
When 28 opened, most of our vendors weren’t delivering to New Jersey, so I’d have to trek into the city almost every day to pick up fish, bread, and visit the meat packing district. The flower district was another stop I started to make. The idea that I could actually do flower arrangements for the restaurant was crazy and too creatively challenging. Because of the soaring ceilings in 28 (and now Raymond’s), we started using seasonal shrubs and branch cuttings from U.S. Evergreen on Sixth Avenue, which looked like a forest surrounded by four walls. It was easier to arrange forsythia, magnolia, cherry blossoms, lilacs, peonies, pussy willows, and other flowering tree branches. It was also convenient since everything was already bundled and I could throw them in the back of my car on top of everything else. Did I mention that it was hard to park? Well, you really couldn’t park. That’s how I ended up getting six tickets in a half an hour one morning. I received the first three from a stone-faced officer who asked me to move. I put those in my pocket and promised the cop I’d be right out. I came out and there were three more tickets on my windshield. I guess I should have been grateful that the car wasn’t towed and at least I got my flower fix for the week.
If you haven’t noticed, we have a little garden in the back of Raymond’s and have grown various plants and herbs over the years. Tall purple tulips planted by my wife looked great for a couple of years. A little potato plant came back after one of our sous chefs planted a little spud. We also had a garden mascot at one time—a cement duck named “Foie” by a former chef. Foie was heavy but someone walked off with it one night; the staff was pretty upset.
This year our annual spring fund raiser is coming back like a true perennial– that is, bigger and stronger. We will be selling our refreshing fruit and herb-inspired drinks (Lavender Lemonade or a Hibiscus Spritzer) to raise money for the Garden Club of Montclair. We will also be selling our drinks on site at the Montclair History Center Herb Sale (Crane House, May 3, 10 am to 4 pm), the Van Vleck Plant Sale (Van Vleck House and Gardens, May 5, 10 am to 4 pm), and at the Master Gardeners of Essex County Plant Sale (Presby Memorial Iris Gardens, May 5, 10 am to 4 pm). At our Ridgewood location, where we grow our own mint and other herbs for our summer beverages, all proceeds will go to The Conservancy for Ridgewood Public Lands and help fund their Children’s Butterfly and Sensory Garden.
We hope that you can make it to one of these events, have a drink, and buy a plant to start your own garden. Even better, stop by and have a drink under the pear trees that are in full bloom right now on Church Street.