Down to Earth: Sal's Rooftop Garden

| April/May 2007

  • Illustration by Brian Orr

My friend Sal arrived in the Ozarks in 1974 straight out of college, never before having been outside of New York City. Sal saw himself as some sort of pioneer, honestly believing anything west of New York was literally “Out West.” 

Sal had been hired as a set designer for a community theater and spent several years in that position. Over the years I learned to appreciate his skills at turning ordinary materials into lavish, fantastical backdrops for plays.

From Sal I learned that garden design isn’t really different from designing a set for a play, only one is on canvas and the other in dirt. In a play, you have a viewing angle, a backdrop, lighting and furniture, all set around a theme. Likewise, in a garden you have “furniture” consisting of plant shapes, colors and accent pieces, possibly some sculpture and lighting. And you have a natural background that can help make the garden come to life.

My friend’s creativity extended to the kitchen. He could turn simple ingredients into stunning dinner presentations based on his Italian grandmother’s recipes. However, Sal found himself longing for the fresh produce from New York’s markets.

“How can people cook here without fresh basil? And tomatoes! Do people really eat those tomato-like things from the grocery store?” he asked.

I decided to teach Sal a bit about growing his own produce, but since he lived on the third floor of the theater, finding a garden spot was a challenge.

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