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Laura Letinsky’s Urban Garden

CONSTANT GARDENER: Laura Letinsky—an artist and all-seasons urban gardener—kicks off spring with a gathering of green thumbs (and has tips to help you get growing)

Laura Letinsky trimming her plants
Letinsky (foreground), a renowned photographer, seamlessly takes her garden plants from outside to inside—and back. “Some of the geraniums I’ve had for ten years,” she says. A lemon geranium from last summer’s garden spent the winter indoors, and its cuttings became starter plants that she shared with friends at a party in her Hyde Park home.

Plants find a home nearly anywhere Laura Letinsky can clear space in or around her sprawling Hyde Park apartment. Seedlings sprout in the dining room, flowerpots line the windowsills, and for the past ten summers, in the small corner of her backyard that gets direct light, Letinsky has cultivated enough arugula, berries, and other edibles to fill countless salad bowls, jars of jam, and dinner party tables. “Recognizing one’s will is not enough [in the garden] is exhilarating and humbling,” she says—but this year, she’s determined to expand beyond boundaries that in the past have been defined by shade. Letinsky gathered a group of gardening friends to share seedlings for spring planting—and to bounce around ideas for a plan to expand her growing space to a new plot on the sun-drenched garage roof.

SPRING SETTING
To season the egg salad she served with seeded bread from Whole Foods, Letinsky opened a container of truffles she had been saving for a special occasion. Guests snacked on fresh veggies with garlic bagna cauda and sipped sangría spiked with summer fruit (including Letinsky’s homegrown currants), which had been macerating for more than a year in a refrigerated jar of rum. The artist’s clean-lined glass pitcher and other modern serving pieces played against the handmade ceramic plates, bowls, and saucers she had formed, fired, and gilded herself over the past two years—a DIY approach she likens to growing a garden from seeds instead of starter plants: “I like making things myself just to see if I can do it.” Tableware like Letinsky’s—including the Barre collection by Simon Pearce—can be found at Material Possessions (704 N. Wabash Ave., 312-280-4885; 954 Green Bay Rd., Winnetka; 847-446-8840).

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HOW HER GARDEN GROWS
Letinsky approaches her garden—like her carefully assembled still-life photos—as an ongoing experiment. “You can have the best of intentions but a different outcome,” she says. “You have to adjust what you want with what’s possible.” In January, she combs seed catalogs and takes stock of leftover seeds from the previous season. Seedlings spring up under an indoor UV lamp in pots with built-in organic fertilizer (like CowPots, available from Gardener’s Supply Company at gardeners.com). Letinsky plants the pots directly into the backyard plot she starts each May. She spreads compost over the tilled ground (having learned that Hyde Park “is generally filled with clay-bearing soil”) before she begins the trial-and-error assembly of vegetables, herbs, and flowers. “There’s a tension between control and [the garden] taking on its own life,” she says. “Things just happen, and it becomes fantastic.”

 

Photograph: Anna Knott; Styling: April Francis; Hair and Makeup: Lauren Frenden/Artists by Timothy Priano

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