Niche Biz: Edible Walls

Mario Batali decided last year to install a garden between his adjoining West Hollywood restaurants, Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza. But a plain old backyard patch wouldn’t do. Batali wanted something more visually striking, something more … vertical? So he turned to Jim Mumford, the owner of Good Earth Plant and Flower Company in San Diego.

Mumford, 52, had built a reputation as a nontraditional gardener. In March 2007, he embarked on a “giant experiment,” replacing the 1,800-square-foot roof of a commercial building he owned with a planter’s paradise: three inches of specialized, lightweight soil over a padded waterproofing and drainage system. Now, 46 varieties of plants thrive there, alongside footpaths and faux boulders.

When customers saw Mumford’s urban oasis, they started asking him about rooftop vegetable gardens. He wanted to help them, but the idea wasn’t practical.

“You would need to either harness yourself or build a 42-inch wall around the edge so you don’t fall off while working there,” he says. “Also a vegetable garden requires more soil and water, so now you have weight issues, too.”

But building gardens on a wall — now that was something Mumford could do.

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