Julia Sherman spent the last year creating an edible garden at her Los Angeles home. The cook, writer, & photographer behind the blog and subsequent books Salad for President and ArtParties, sees the creative potential in everything she does — including the lush landscape she’s created around the exterior of her Boyd Georgi-designed “glass tree house” that seems to float over a rugged stream.
We visited Julia’s garden, where she spends time with her family cultivating the ingredients to her famous salads, and spoke to the author about the emotion resonance of the space, the most delicious things she’s harvested, and the party she’s dreaming about throwing.
For the past year you’ve been in the process of making this beautiful home your own. Can you talk a little bit about that outdoor space? Has it been shaped by your work as a cook and a writer?
I am a cook, artist, writer and photographer. I never call myself a professional gardener because I feel like I'm a lifelong student and definitely still learning a lot. I try to keep all my work within the intersection of the art world and the food world, and to think about how creative people integrate food into their everyday lives.
The garden for me is my meditation, but it also really dovetails really nicely with my work. I grow a lot of the things that I find difficult to source. Those are more unusual herbs and vegetables. Then just the things that I find I need on a daily basis, especially during the pandemic it's been really nice to not have to be constantly outsourcing everything.
When we bought the house, the front garden was the previous owner’s prize rose garden, but my friend Nina Whitethorn helped me to make it into our vegetable garden. She was my savior because the week that we were supposed to be planting, I got COVID. We had to plant, and she just took the reins and got everything in the ground for me while I was really, really sick.
The plantings are really happy because it gets full sun. The back of the house was a very extreme slope and a conundrum from a landscaping point of view, because the house is cantilevered over a natural stream, and there's a bridge that goes over it.
I knew I wanted to have a fruit orchard back there, so we worked with Terremoto to make what we call our Zorro cut through the landscape. It's like a big extreme switchback, a Z-shaped path in the back. Along it are fruit trees and a lot of native plants and pollinators. The idea being that we're growing a lot of native plants that attract bees and birds, butterflies. Then we have 30 different types of fruit trees growing back there.
Your garden is full of edible plants that often form the base of your cooking. What are you growing?
Right now I'm growing cardamom, which is totally amazing because the leaves smell incredible. All my cilantro has gone to seed now, but that was great. The green coriander berry is amazing and people don't use it enough. Before it dries and becomes a coriander seed, it's this really bright, vibrant green berry.
I just harvested artichokes and marinated them in oil, which is really delicious. I have a curry plant which is something so special. You often see curry leaves in Indian food, often fried and added to rice, but it's really hard to find fresh curry leaves. That is a really cool thing.
What else? Oh, ice lettuce, which is this succulent plant. The stems and the stalks look like they're covered in little droplets of water, but it's actually just these nodules of salty deliciousness. That is a really cool plant that is hard to get to establish, but once it takes off, it just does its own thing and barely needs any water.
What emotions does this outdoor space, which you’ve put so much effort into creating, evoke? Did you create those feelings very intentionally or has it been more of an organic experience (no pun intended)?
I'd say there's a mix. I tried to really keep feelings of anxiety at bay because with edible plants you have a lot of constant responsibilities. You're mulching, you're pruning, you're doing pest control. Each of them has a personality of their own. There are times when it can feel like every time I go outside, I'm like, "Oh, fuck. I have just so much to do." It always feels for me really urgent.
But then I think the other part of it is this deep satisfaction of feeling self-sustaining. There's also a lot less pressure in terms of everyday cooking, because when you make a salad from the garden and you pick 20 different greens that are just right there, you don't have to do much. You can just put vinegar and olive oil on it and it tastes delicious. I think there's this sort of comfort with simplicity because you feel so accomplished already at having grown the vegetables.
I'm a nurturer, and plants just make you feel like you're constantly moving in the right direction. So for me, that's important. I think as an East Coaster in LA, I miss the seasons. The best way here to really actually connect with the seasons is to grow food, because you experience the reality of them with your hands. I would actually have no idea that it was April right now if there weren’t artichokes and fava beans growing.
Has being at home over the course of the pandemic changed how you think about your home and garden at all?
When we first moved in, which was peak pandemic, I found myself putting a lot of my feelings of lack of control into the house and having a really hard time accepting the fact that a project like this is never done.
Getting to spending so much time in the home with all of us— we have a two year old and I am expecting our second baby in July—has definitely made us realize that we have to actually to be really intentional about enjoying our space and not thinking of it as always something that's waiting for our attention to fix it, or to change it.
We just have been looking around like, "We're so lucky and so happy to be here." I think that it’s made it an important time as a family to just be somewhere where we can be outside and garden together and just feel grateful for what we have.
You obviously are spending a lot of time in your garden with your family and for your work, but how else do you envision sharing this space down the road?
We are serial entertainers and hosts. My next book is actually all about entertaining. It’s called Arty Parties: an Entertaining Cookbook, and it’s all about the concept of entertaining as an experimental pursuit that is also fulfilling for your guests and for you as a host. So, entertaining was such an important part of our vision for this house.
We're really feeling like we need to have a big party, because we're used to having 30 people over for dinner on a regular basis. We haven't been able to do that. The past year really has been a very different experience of a house that we designed to be a place that can accommodate people really collectively and comfortably. I think it's been very weird for us to not have had that and have lived here over a year.
We're having a baby in July. I'm so excited about the bris because it's the first chance we'll probably have to have a real party. I'm the only person who's ever been excited about a bris! I think the vision ultimately is that there's always somebody crashing and people show up for dinner unannounced, and that's just not been a reality. I think it'll be a really different way of living here once that changes.
What's your ultimate dream for the garden?
I think that for me the ultimate goal is that the garden starts to just really take on a life of its own. My philosophy about gardening is to let it start to breathe and have its own rhythms. This year is my second year with the garden. The thing that's the most gratifying right now is seeing how there are things that are just feeding themselves.
I don't pull things as soon as they start to look like they're done or they're not giving me what I want, I let them go to seed or I let them flower. That way they're feeding the bees and the pollinators, but also it lets me use the plant in its entirety.
Now I have a Calendula that I didn't plant that's just growing up everywhere, and Chrysanthemum and Dill and things that I didn't plan for. I love that the garden gets to that place where it's a living breathing thing and it really just takes on a life of its own.
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