Fashion designer Zac Posen has always been a fan of both gardening and cooking, and this summer he has been pursuing these hobbies with a vengeance—growing flowers from seed and planting trees and going on midnight foraging runs for ingredients. “I’ve never been able to stay in one place and see spring and summer come into season,” Posen says. “And that was something I always wanted to experience, because you learn about time, space, and nature in a different way. You have to slow down.”
Posen’s cookbook, Cooking with Zac, includes recipes with many ingredients he grew in his garden. As with his fashion designs, he adores color—he even turns colorful blooms into sugared toppings for the cakes he bakes for friends. “Just make sure the flowers are edible!” he warns. “Always Google them first.” Here, Posen shares his gardening tips with ELLE Decor and explains how to make those gorgeous sugared flowers.
ELLE Decor: Zac, I hear that you and your friend Jacqueline Schnabel have been gardening up a storm on Long Island this summer. What’s in your garden?
Zac Posen: We started from seed early in the spring. I planted a vegetable bed and nasturtiums, which are some of my favorite flowers. For flowers, I replanted a perennials garden with foxgloves, delphiniums, and lilies. Nicotiana is one of my favorite plants. It’s actually a tobacco plant, but the white and green flowers have an incredible fragrance. As an experiment, I planted five varieties of lilac bushes in the spring, as well as a plum and a cherry tree.
ED: What are the keys to a beautiful garden?
ZP: A garden should be a full sensory experience. You are playing with color, texture, and seasonality. It’s a fun thing to see how a garden develops. It takes experience, nurturing, and love. And you need to understand the soil. I’ve always had gardens, both in the city and at my parents’ farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
ED: You often incorporate what you grow into the dishes you make—and not just vegetables. What are some of your favorite edible plants?
ZP: There are so many edible flowers, from nasturtiums to chrysanthemums and many roses. Sweet peas and alliums, too. Marigolds are trendy in food right now: I see them a lot on cheeses, and I use them in salads. But be careful, because many plants—like delphinium and foxglove—are poisonous.
ED: Tell me about this cake topped with violets.
ZP: I love violets. They have such a sweet, powdery scent. Candying them brings you that fresh scent of spring and summer. This is a classic angel food cake. I mixed in some fennel pollen, which gives it an anise flavor and some color. You could substitute almond extract or orange-blossom water. I baked the cake the night before my friend’s birthday last spring. Then it occurred to me: How am I going to decorate that? It turned into a bit of midnight foraging, where I took a flashlight and went into the garden to see what could work. I found these very beautiful violets—ivory with light blue speckles. They had an almost ombré look.
ED: What’s your method for candying flowers?
ZP: I rinse and air-dry the flowers, then mix egg whites with a little water and, holding the petals with a tweezer, paint the mixture on the blooms with a pastry brush. I sift castor sugar, which is superfine, onto the coated flowers. Then I let them dry for 24 hours. As the sugar crystallizes, the color of the flower comes through. In summer, you could try this method with rose petals, marigolds, or pansies. I might try to candy basil.
ED: What else are you cooking up out of your garden?
ZP: I’m creating jellies out of berries and rose petals. I love nasturtiums in a salad; they add spice and color. I top pizzas with fontina cheese, arugula, and marigolds. I’m really looking forward to September, when there is so much fresh produce and ingredients available.
ED: You usually have an on-the-go lifestyle. What has been your takeaway of the last few months spent at home?
ZP: It’s been a real lesson in patience. The upside is that this year I’ve felt more connected to the land than ever before.
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