In 2013, Nick Mann, project manager at Spruce Peak, devoured one of the most splendid meals of his life at the acclaimed French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley. Yet even more memorable than dinner were the surrounding gardens, which patrons stroll through while waiting for their table. “Not only was I inspired home grown by their beauty,” Mann says, “But seeing the fruits, herbs, and vegetables later transformed into food on our plate drew a visceral connection between what we grow and what we eat.”
The experience made a powerful impression on Mann, and in 2017, he masterminded an organic community garden for Spruce Peak, located behind the Pavilion. “I had a brainstorming session with our chefs and facilities team about how it would work, what to plant, and who would care for it,” Mann says. Working with a landscape engineer, he drew up a blueprint for 20 raised beds.
Planting a Seed
Concerned about upkeep and maintenance since there wasn’t a dedicated gardener to weed and water, Mann kept the plantings basic the first year, sticking to herbs and microgreens. “We soon discovered that everyone loved to help out—it became a community-wide effort,” Mann says. From kids in Cubs daycare and summer camp programs to staffers in the real estate office, people were eager to get their hands in the soil.
So last year, he ratcheted up the offerings to include edible flowers, a variety of greens, squash, beets, radishes, cucumbers, beans, and 35 kinds of tomatoes in virtually every size and color.
“Being able to walk through the rows of herbs and veggies, tasting and smelling them, helps me paints a picture of where I want to go with the menu,” says Nate Kulchak, executive chef at Spruce Peak.
“The garden also gives us a chance to plant exotic, hard-to-find ingredients—like shiso leaf for sushi, and epazote, a Mexican herb used for cooking beans.”
Now, the garden has settled into a rhythm. Each May, the Spruce Peak team replenishes the beds, turning over soil and adding compost. Seeds and starters are delivered in early June, and the culinary staff dives into planting. “The biggest issue is the short growing season,” Mann says. “We harvest before the first frost comes at the end of September, and then pull up the remaining plants and throw them into the woods where they self-compost.”
Force of Nature
Aside from enhancing restaurant meals at Spruce Peak, the garden has had a relaxing, rejuvenating effect on the whole community. “People gravitate toward it, eating their lunch on the stone walls, or just walking around, looking and pointing,” Mann says. “But the garden isn’t just for admiring; it’s for everyone to use. This is your garden—grab some herbs for dinner, or pick a tomato or squash so you can have a little piece of Spruce Peak when you go home to your kitchen.”
Recipes Inspired by the Garden Bounty
Cocktail: The North Side
A riff on the classic Southside cocktail associated with horse-racing season, this Hourglass Lounge libation is the perfect summer sipper. It features fresh mint from the community garden and a premium local spirit, Barr Hill Gin, which has a bright, honeyed flavor. This being Vermont, a touch of maple syrup replaces the traditional simple syrup.
- 1.5oz Barr Hill gin
- .75oz fresh lemon juice
- .5oz maple syrup
- 10 mint leaves
Shake ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Strain into a tall glass of ice, top it off with a splash of soda water, and garnish with mint.
Appetizer: Tomato-Watermelon Salad
This dish debuted at Spruce Peak’s inaugural farm table dinner in the summer of 2018. Garden cilantro, oregano and orange blossoms add to this mouthwatering salad.
Recipe (Serves 4):
- ½ English Cucumber
- 6 large Heirloom tomato
- 2 Watermelon Radishes
- ¼ Watermelon
- Garden Oregano & Borage Blossoms
- Nicoise Olives
- Grapefruit pearls
Slice watermelon, tomato, cucumber, and radish then set aside; Remove olive pits add to food processor and blend until smooth; Brush olive puree on to plate; Arrange watermelon, tomato, cucumber , and radish on plate; Garnish with herbs flowers and grapefruit pearls.