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Gardening Articles: Health :: Garden Travel

A Chef's Garden

by Scott Millard

If you're traveling in the West and have a chance to swing through Phoenix, Arizona, there's a place you should stop in and see--especially if you're a gardener with a taste for the unusual. It just happens to be located at one of the state's premiere resort destinations: The Pointe Hilton Resort at Tapatio Cliffs in Phoenix. As soon as you drive in, you'll begin to notice that things are a bit out of the ordinary.

For starters, there are artichokes in the restaurant parking lot. (In Phoenix, in mid-May.) And you just might see those marigolds blooming on the patio again--in your evening salad. Likewise for the roses, nasturtiums, hollyhocks and pansies. They are planted not only for their beauty--their flowers are destined to become edible enhancements. But these are mere appetizers for what is yet to come. The main course is a short walk down the hill in one of the narrow canyons. There, hidden amid the sheltering native trees, lies a series of beautifully terraced planting beds brimming with herbs, flowers, vegetables and berries. If it's early in the morning, chances are you'll come upon the garden's creator and caretaker, Erasmo Kamnitzer, or "Razz" as he is known about these parts, the master chef de cuisine and master gardener at the Different Pointe of View Restaurant.

When I visited Razz, it was a good thing I was wearing my tennis shoes. I scrambled to keep up, winding my way between the narrow retaining walls that hold the soil in terraced planting beds. Chef Razz had a story for each plant, whether it was how it came to be included in the garden or its historical place in food lore. Hibiscus flowers, he told me, were believed to be a floral fountain of youth in ancient Egypt and were used in baths to increase longevity. Epazote (Chenopodium ambrosoides), a strong-scented native herb, has been brought from a local riverbank to reseed and establish itself in one small bed. Three-year-old pepper plants transplanted from the tiny original garden outside the restaurant door thrive in the lacy shade beneath the mesquites. Razz calls these peppers "hot-sob" (so-named because of their fiery disposition and what people do if they eat too many!). California poppies started from seed two years ago have reseeded to add splashes of yellow-gold throughout the garden. Razz lets them grow where they will--he loves the spicy taste of the flowers in salads and sausages. At the topmost terraced bed, you'll find a rather eclectic plant combination: loganberries, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, rose-scented geraniums, blackberries, raspberries, nopalito cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) and a Mexican lime tree. All will have a starring or supporting role in a future entree.

Other notables include scarlet runner beans--the brilliant flowers are used in salads or as a vegetable, with the seeds sown directly in the garden in February for late spring to early summer harvests--and fresh garden tomatoes, which go in as transplants: 'Big Boy', 'Green Zebra', 'Italian Plum' and 'Sweet 100', to name a few. Miniature patty pan squash with matching blossoms receive raves from dinner guests, as do the sweet corn varieties, such as 'Kandy Korn'.

Herbs, of course, are a must in a gourmet chef's garden: anise basil, chives, rosemary, thyme and fennel. Chamomile, horehound, tansy, mints and sages practically grow wild. Edible flowers abound: hollyhocks, calendulas, marigolds, Cardinal sage and nasturtiums are favorites.

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