For the past few months, Camilla Hammer and I have busted our asses to plan, plant, maintain and share the MoMA PS1 Salad Garden. Buried in this seasonal work, time slipped by, and I neglected to feature Camilla exclusively on Salad For President. With the growing season nearing its end, I have a moment to come up for air, and to share with you the origin story of a beautiful friendship between two women with dirty fingernails, and an equal love of plants, salad and rosé.
Back in May, I proposed to MoMA PS1 that I build an enormous garden on their roof. “Easy,” I said, “I love gardening! Of course I can do this myself.” Needless to say, Camilla Hammer saved my ass.
I am not a total neophyte, but I must admit that I am not superhuman, nor am I an urban farmer. I rather consider myself an exuberant, and mildly obsessive amateur with a “joie de vivre,” to quote my 93 year old grandmother. Recognizing this, when the Salad Garden project was approved, I made a beeline to the the Battery Urban Farm. My plan? Beg for any and all advice on how to acquire free labor, how to set-up irrigation, and to ask, “what exactly are the secrets to the creation and maintenance of a successful rooftop garden?” Like a vision, there was Camilla, acting then as the project manager of the Battery Urban Farm. She had worked the land in California, New York and as far afield as India; I was impressed. Camilla was quick to offer to consult on the project. “Consultant” soon evolved into “Collaborator,”as we two alone hauled tons (literally) of compost from the loading dock, through the bowels of the museum, and on to the roof.
The next challenge was designing the garden. Camilla was clearly not inspired by my willy-nilly technique of scattering seeds, nor my tendency to overcrowd the beds with as many plants as I could get my little hands on. She insisted on organized rows, plant labels, even an excel spreadsheet (oh my!). She nearly sucked the joy right out of my intuitive garden practice, until I saw how beautifully it filled in, alternating textures and colors; an intentional garden was a whole new experience for me. Under Camilla’s guidance, I learned to exercise self-control. Well, most of the time — there was that donation of 50 onion plants that I stuck in every nook and cranny of each and every bed (Camilla didn’t like this).
Late one night, Camilla told me she considered me a mentor of sorts. This took me by surprise, as I have learned so much from her in the past few months. When I am not simply relating to her as a friend, she fills the role of the botany teacher I never had. She encourages me to take one task at a time, and to accept the ebbs and flows of the garden (turns out, things die sometimes and that’s ok).
Camilla is no longer working at the Battery Urban Farm. She is consulting and designing private gardens, and I can’t wait to see where she goes next (mostly cause I hope she takes me with her).