Growing vegetables is not exactly a groundbreaking activity, except in the literal sense of the word. Many of the crops we grow today are centuries old, dating back to early modern times, an era covered by two food-related exhibitions at Getty.
The Getty Salad Garden, which debuted in October, intentionally features some of these venerable favorites like cabbages, beans, and peas. But our objective in creating the garden was even broader than remembering historical crops. In collaboration with Julia Sherman, an artist and creator of the blog Salad for President, our goal was to select crops that stimulate conversation while also making for great salad ingredients. With these ambitions in mind, we planned the garden based on a few different variables.
The Far-Flung and the Rare
First, we are cultivating crop varieties that are not commonly found in American grocery stores. Some are drawn from other cultural traditions, such as mizuna (a Japanese mustard), tatsoi (rosette bok choy from Asia), and amaranth (an important Mesoamerican grain).
Other crops are unique heirloom varieties selected from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, a Missouri-based vendor of rare heirloom seeds, such as merlot lettuce, purple jalapeños, and sawtooth mustard. Salad is a versatile vehicle for delectable meals, and the wide array of ingredients is designed to showcase just how many flavors, textures, and colors can be incorporated.
Food as Medicine
Second, we selected crops that highlight the notion that food is medicine. In past centuries, plants such as wormwood, valerian, and angelica were used to treat an assortment of ailments, including indigestion and insomnia.
Even though many of these plants have fallen out of favor, the idea that food is medicine is as valid as ever. The Getty Salad Garden features a panoply of green, red, purple, and orange plants—colors that are not just beautiful but also indicate the nutrient-rich quality of the crops. Carotenoids, the class of pigments that lend many fruits and vegetables their color, are powerful antioxidants with significant health benefits.
More than Sustenance
Of course, this vivid color spectrum also contributes to the splendor of the space. Food gardens are dynamic, complex ecosystems with a visual beauty that changes over the course of a year. Even during the three-month duration of the Getty Salad Garden, the tender white pepper blossoms and yellow fruit of the lemon-drop peppers will recede as they are replaced by red-spined dragon’s tongue arugula and the aptly named lime-streaked mizuna.
The prominence of the Getty Salad Garden also shows how far we have come in reconsidering where food gardens fit—or don’t fit—in the modern landscape. As lawns became the predominant landscape feature in post-World War II America, kitchen gardens were shunted to the far reaches of yards or eliminated altogether. Now the pendulum is swinging in the other direction, as people seek proximity to their food sources and grapple with the limited water resources in drought-stricken Southern California.
The Getty is not the first cultural institution in Los Angeles to have a food garden; the Huntington Library has a Ranch Garden, the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden has a kitchen garden, and there are a variety of herbs incorporated into the landscape of the Getty Villa. Within the context of the two food-related exhibitions currently at the Getty, the Getty Salad Garden continues this exploration of food, not just as sustenance but as cultural heritage.
About the Getty Salad Garden
The Getty Salad Garden is an installation of sustainably grown heirloom vegetables and salad greens, as well as a platform for engaging Los Angeles’ contemporary artistic community in a series of evolving conversations, programs and gatherings. Presented by artist and writer Julia Sherman, creator of the blog Salad For President, the Getty Salad Garden aims to synthesize a wide variety of creative voices as the fascinating history of art and food are explored in two exhibitions: The Edible Monument: The Art of Food for Festivals and Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: Food in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
The Getty Salad Garden is a project of the J. Paul Getty Museum Education Department and is made possible by the generosity of Anawalt Lumber, Bragg Live Food Products and Kellogg Garden Products.