A working garden in the sky

San Francisco’s St. Regis Hotel has a garden in the sky.

When executive chef John Jackson first relocated to San Francisco in 2005, he spied something on the fourth-floor deck that reminded him of his Canadian home: a plot of earth.

“We always had a huge garden when I was growing up,” he says. “What I saw here was a bunch of plants that didn’t serve any purpose.”

So he tore up the 10-foot-by-32-foot dirt enclosure and set about planting things that did. The result is an organic, sustainable garden for Vitrine, the hotel’s breakfast, brunch and lunch restaurant that’s 20 feet away.

Jackson — who was a sous chef at St. Regis owner Starwood’s largest hotel property in New York, then trained chefs at other Starwood hotels — wanted to create something befitting San Francisco, and not just in the kitchen.

Known for innovative cuisine, Jackson changes Vitrine’s menu daily, emphasizing freshness; he flies in fish direct from Japan.

With his hotel garden, he can step outside his kitchen door to pick seasonal greens, herbs, fruits or vegetables — 28 varieties — to use in his cooking.

He has planted a laundry list of herbs and greens: four kinds of mint (Spanish, Moroccan, Kentucky and pineapple), two oreganoes (Greek and pink), three thymes (broad leaf, French and silver), two sages (pineapple and English), lavender, rosemary, savory, flat-leaf parsley, dill and tarragon. There are red, butter crisp and leaf lettuce, arugula, Swiss chard, artichokes, cilantro and coriander, as well aslime and Peters Honey fig trees.

Jackson created the garden a year and a half ago, repotting with organic soil and purchasing plants primarily from San Francisco’s farmers market at the Ferry Building. He fertilizes twice each year with organic fertilizer. No chemicals or sprays are used.

“If a slug gets in, I get a can, fill it with beer and stick it in the ground,” he says. “They drown.”

The garden gets five hours of light and is arranged left to right, from shade-loving plants to those who need the most sun. Plant height rises from front to back.

“Every day I think of new ways to expand it,” Jackson says of the working garden. Lettuce is replaced once a month, other plants as needed.

“It’s intensive in the kitchen,” he says. “I work in the garden and it’s peaceful. And I use what I grow. Diners get to eat something just picked. It’s a sanctuary.”

Vitrine Garden, St. Regis Hotel,

125 Third St., San Francisco

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