03: GARDENING WITH ZAC POSEN

Zac and I grew up through the iconic 90’s when American designers were on fire, clubs were hip-hopping with the Waifs, Jay, Puffy, the Schnabels, Di Caprio and the Ronsons. They were spell-binding times that left their mark on music and fashion. Cultural history was made. I walked Zac’s shows, modeling his collections then and up until his recent F19 campaign, artfully shot by Michael Avedon.

Zac brings his infectious smile and joie de vivre to everything he touches from his bias-cut couture dresses, to his Buddhist Kenchinjiri soup, to his home-grown heirloom tomatoes each August. Gardening is, in fact, his unsung talent, his quiet slay, and one I respect with every fiber of my being.

You see, at The Lab, true empowerment is everything. Self-sustainability, health and creation all live at our core. And so we turn to the garden. When we grow our own food, we feed our bodies and souls. From a simple package of seeds, we grow wealth. We empower and enrich our very own futures.

My own love affair with gardening is young and so I turn to Zac for some answers and inspiration. Let’s walk down the garden path with this dashing Renaissance man.

NB: We are in a time where gardening and being self-sustainable is the way to plant seeds for our future! Can you share about the empowerment that can come from growing your own food? 

ZP: Gardening and especially growing my own food feeds my soul. Growing things, whether it’s flowers or vegetables, nurtures on so many levels. It demands that you understand and respect the land and the weather. It gives you confidence in knowing where your food comes from and that it’s fresh and loaded with undiminished vitamins and nutrients. And then you can keep it and stash it away for future use: freezing, canning, drying. Of course, all of this takes a great deal of nurturing and care, which is probably what I love the most about it!

NB: How did you discover your obsession with gardening? Can you share about creating your first garden?

ZP: When I was a little boy, we started a raised bed garden on the roof of our Soho loft which meant hauling up a lot of soil. We planted in old crates and they needed daily watering because it got so hot on the black tar roof. My mom and I planted a Noah’s ark of vegetables. Some worked up there, some didn’t. But it was really fun and I learned a lot. There were other people gardening on their adjacent roofs and they became my “roof” friends. I think I still have some irises that were given to me years ago by Lynn, our Soho neighbor to the east! Later on, when my parents bought land in Pennsylvania, gardening became a huge passion with a much bigger area to plant and harvest.

NB: Everything you do stems from a deep connection to beauty, but you’re also a seasoned cook.  And so I must ask, what dominates your garden – flowers or vegetables?  And what thrills you the most to see growing in your garden?

ZP: I can’t choose one above the other! I love both. There’s nothing more inspiring than mother nature and seeing how different flowers are constructed. Did you know that there is no red-colored iris? Growing one’s own fruits and vegetables is a thrill on a whole different level. It’s kind of like having a living plant pet for the whole growing season.

NB: What advice do you have for someone just getting started, someone planting their very first garden?

ZP: Just do it! Experiment and watch carefully! And share with your friends. It takes some practice and a lot of patience. And water well. (Make sure you have a source of water and perhaps a way to catch rain water).

NB: Do you have a formula for perfect soil? Do you mix in compost or any plant foods? Do you recommend starting from seed or planting seedlings? 

ZP: It’s really about the magic combination between the weather and the earth. You can certainly improve (or as gardeners say, “amend”) the soil using compost, but every environment is different so there isn’t one rule of thumb.

I love selecting and ordering seeds from the seed catalogues which start to arrive in the mail after Christmas. This year I had success germinating seeds using a technique suggested by Nils, my brother in law. I placed seeds between 2 damp sheets of paper toweling and sealed the damp paper in a ziplock bag. I then put the baggies in a dark place and left them alone for a couple of days (peeking daily!). It was thrilling to be able to see which seeds germinated because they showed tiny little sprouts, which I then very carefully transplanted into small soil pods so that they could continue their growing journey. But to answer your question, if I’m in a garden center and spy a small, already started plant that I crave, I can’t resist and that plant gets added to the garden.

NB: If space is limited for city dwellers, what are the best crops, vegetables or flowers to grow in containers?

ZP: Container plants are wonderful. But I do think tomatoes grown on rooftops and fire escapes can sometimes have tough skin due to the heat. But if you water daily, you’ve got a good shot. Cherry tomatoes are best for this. Also strawberries work well and you can get different varieties that bear fruit at different times throughout the growing season.

NB: Who are you garden heroines/heroes? Or what gardens, farms or landscapes inspire you the most?

ZP: There are so many! I once visited Martha Stewart’s flower garden on the day when the irises and peonies were in bloom at the same time and it was truly spectacular to see her passion and vision in a beloved garden.

NB: Can you share any favorite garden resources? Seed companies, favorite tools or equipment?

ZP: Get a good garden hat to protect you against the sun. And one pet peeve of mine: I really dislike seed packs where you have to tear the whole thing open and there’s no easy way to seal it up again!  So I favor seed companies whose seeds comes in re-sealable packs, like Johnny’s Seeds.

NB: I’m sure some are eager to dive in despite the fact that summer is well underway! What seeds or seedlings can be planted in late summer for an autumn harvest?

ZP: Now that it’s so hot, you really need to wait a bit for new planting. You can try starting some Fall vegetable seeds (like spinach, brussel sprouts) indoors and wait to put out until it cools off.

NB: Can you share a favorite recipe from the garden?

ZP: Well, you know that there are plenty of my recipes in my cookbook “Cooking with Zac”  and I’d be hard pressed to choose a favorite! But I recommend playing with nasturtiums which are in bloom and will continue into Fall. All parts are edible! The flowers will liven up any plate. And I just read a recipe for nasturtium leaf pesto which I’m going to try. I imagine it will be spicy like the leaves.

NB: I’d love to hear your thoughts on the healing and spiritual aspects of gardening, of growing your own food, and connecting to nature.

ZP: I know it sounds obvious but there is a real connection between our spiritual well-being and all living, growing things. And the danger in not recognizing this is readily apparent. We are learning that trees communicate with one another, so it seems clear to me that plants and people can communicate!

Connecting to nature makes for a happy and healthy life – physically, mentally and spiritually!