Secret Gardens: A fragrant, peaceful and edible spot at The Breakers

The herb garden at The Breakers in Palm Beach is tucked between the croquet court and the 13th hole.

Chef Joey Tuazon gathers nasturtium blooms to dress a salad.

INSET BELOW:  June plum is one of the many fruit trees.

Photos by Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

By Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley

    At The Breakers in Palm Beach, you can expect towering royal palms, gently falling fountains and blankets of colorful flowers virtually everywhere. But if you head to an area between the resort’s croquet court and the 13th hole of its Ocean Golf Course, you can expect the unexpected.

    This is the resort’s organic herb and vegetable garden. Outlined by hedges of podocarpus, trinette and rosemary, this 40-by-60-foot plot is just as carefully designed and maintained as the rest of the property; there’s not a weed in sight. But it’s the plantings that are different.  

    In 14 raised beds fashioned from wood, you’ll find small bouquets of tender fresh basil; red-veined leaves of blood sorrel; purple-edged “scarlet frills” mustard greens; tiny leaf oregano; spikes of garlic chives; and gaillardia or Indian blanket, a wildflower with rust blooms that make unusual plate garnishes.

    Although the landscaping crew maintains it, executive chef Anthony Sicignano and the other resort chefs use the harvest for garnishes and seasonings in their restaurants.

    When there’s a gentle breeze, it makes a pleasant place for visitors to sit peacefully on one of the two wooden benches. If the timing is right, you may even be serenaded by the bells from a nearby church tower.

    “When I have a really hectic day ahead of me, I stop out here for five minutes just to have some peace,” says Sicignano, who was the impetus behind the garden planted in this location about a decade ago. 

    Nearby, clay pots hold three small trees with aromatic leaves. Smell them and you may recognize the spicy bite of allspice, the herbaceous scent of bay leaf and the aroma of lemon bay rum reminiscent of aftershave.

    There also are concrete flower boxes filled with fresh mint. 

    Although there are both spearmint and wintergreen varieties, a staff tasting determined the wintergreen to be too antiseptic for use in the resort kitchens. 

    In this garden, Sicignano likes to experiment. He is trying to sprout agretti from seeds that were imported from Italy, where he traveled and discovered this annual succulent. He describes it as tasting like a cross between a chive and a pine needle. “But it really is delicious,” he adds.

     Now stroll down the path that leads west from the garden. It used to be blacktop, but last fall the resort decided to redo it “Breakers’ style,” explains Sicignano. They replaced the macadam with a pattern of red bricks. Along it they planted tropical fruit trees as a test to see if they do well. If so, you may find them being planted all over the property.

    Although there hasn’t been any fruit harvested yet, Sicignano is looking forward to variegated pink lemons that are already forming their striped green fruit on the tree. 

    There also will be avocado, loquat, lychee, breadfruit, Barbados cherry and two types of mangoes plus others.

    Of course, The Breakers does millions of dollars in food and beverage revenue each year. And to supply that food they’d have to have a farm. “But to grow and share a little of what we use is kind of neat,” Sicignano says.

Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley is a certified master gardener who can be reached at debhartz@att.net when she’s not in her garden.

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