Toronto artist goes to botanical extremes to bring beauty and food to her table and canvas
TORONTO Summer 2010 – When Food Network chef David Rocco spends 20 minutes talking about your garden at a fundraiser to an audience of over 300 people, you know you can hold your head high above the Hungarian broom corn that grows on the boulevard outside your Victorian home in Yorkville. Well, if you’re Vivian Reiss you can.
"I've been urban farming and gardening in Toronto for over 35 years," says Vivian Reiss. "I love the reactions my unconventional street garden gets from passersby. Why not provoke and enchant people with unusual edibles to give them immense joy and esthetic enjoyment."
Besides being enchantingly provocative, Reiss'’ garden is a bounty for her kitchen table and other projects. Reiss uses her pasta maker to press sorghum into sugar, turns corn kernels into porridge, and makes lovely brown dye from her black walnuts. Her garden has been praised by Lorraine Johnson in her book City Farmer, graced the pages of Gardening Life Magazine, and has been in a CBC’ documentary on the future of cities. And when Vivian Reiss decides to do something unusual, like using her garden’'s fennel seeds to make Italian matza over an original 1820’s hearth, over 36 publications world wide pick up on her vibe.
"I'’ve got terrific recipes that use the vegetables and flowers from my garden. I have been testing them out on family and friends for years around my communal kitchen table. I think it’s time I write a cookbook," says Reiss.
Food writing doesn't seem a stretch for Reiss, as she is one of those remarkable people who is a natural at anything she puts a hand to. For instance, she designed her artistic backyard, which is like falling into a storybook - and you are Alice at the festivities. – She likes to call it her Textile Garden. This garden is about dramatic storytelling, as Reiss' textile inspired yard features: a giant ball of faux-wool made out of kiwi vine; and eight-foot-long wood knitting needles attached to a giant length of stitch fashioned from six-hundred feet of garden hose.
Beyond the borders of Reiss’ Alice in Wonderland styled home garden, there is another mini-city farm on the go. A Reiss rooftop garden at the midtown family-owned office building produces a delicious organic vegetable patch. Tenants get to take coffee breaks in their own garden of Eden as well as take home organic lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers for dinner.
When Reiss isn't busy planning, cultivating, designing and harvesting her many gardens – she paints them, and makes them larger than life on enormous canvases. When all her gardenscape paintings are hung together, it feels like walking into a painted pavilion of divine lushness. Her garden paintings are currently on view at Reiss Gallery in Toronto, at 500 College Street.
About Vivian Reiss
Vivian Reiss is a New York born Toronto based artist; creator of performance events and installations; designer of architectural projects, costumes, gardens and furniture; and currently working on a cookbook. She has had over 25 one woman exhibitions, and her work is in collections world-wide. Her daughter, Ariel Garten, CEO of Interaxon and her son, Joel Garten, is a composer and pianist. Vivian lives and works with her husband, Irving Garten.
Website: www.vreiss.com Blog: www.vivianreiss.com
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