When Google wanted a rooftop garden for its building in Manhattan, company officials contacted Kentucky landscape designer Jon Carloftis.
It's no surprise, really. Carloftis got his start 22 years ago by specializing in designing and planting rooftop gardens in New York.
Google bought the former Port Authority Building at 111 Eighth Avenue in Chelsea in December for $1.9 billion. On a snowy day in January, Carloftis presented his plan for the 15th floor. Google officials liked his ideas. But before going ahead with the garden, they decided to wait until employees moved into the offices on that floor.
Carloftis thought that was Google's polite way of saying, "Thanks, but no thanks."
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In late June, the phone rang. It was Google. Could Carloftis do four terrace gardens — one a vegetable garden — on the 11th floor, since they were getting ready to move into offices there?
And there was a special request: Could he start after July 4 and be done by Aug.1?
Fortunately, Carloftis knows how to shift into overdrive without asking questions.
"It's show biz," he said, laughing.
To get inspiration for the garden, Carloftis toured the Google offices.
The idea, he said, was to "look inside and bring the same feeling outside. This way, the garden connects to the way people live, and everyone gets a one-of-a-kind garden with their own personality on it."
What Carloftis saw was a creative environment with "young, brainiac kids." Employees zip down hallways on skateboards and scooters. Cubicles are personalized.
"These kids are not restricted. This is how they come up with ideas. That's why I think it was so great they hired a 47-year-old," he said with a laugh.
Because Google provides free meals to its more than 2,200 employees in New York City, the company wanted an organic vegetable garden. Kim Huskey, food services manager for Google on the East Coast, Canada and Australia, liked the idea of growing vegetables in the garden.
"I don't want to give anybody the idea this is a farm," Huskey said, and there's not enough produce grown in the terrace garden to sustain the Google population. "But we thought it would be really wonderful to have a garden and grow some of our own food."
Plus, employees can walk through the gardens, a treat in an urban setting, and they can see vegetables growing, reinforcing the notion that Google believes in eating fresh and healthy.
"What we were looking for in these spaces was to integrate fruit, vegetables, herbs and landscape," Huskey said.
Carloftis came up with four themed gardens:
■ A "farm" area has an array of summer vegetables, herbs, blueberry bushes and eight espaliered apple and pear trees planted in 30 large wooden boxes made by Longwood Antique Woods on Midland Avenue in Lexington.
■ The area known as "chill" has a meditative quality, with plants exclusively with silver and blue foliage — such as blue spruce — in blue ceramic pots made in England.
■ "Bliss" is a happy place, with acid-green, yellow and dark-green pots, and plants with yellow or burgundy foliage.
■ "Camp" features swings, hammocks, a council circle of real cedar stumps for impromptu meetings, and a fire pit for making s'mores.
The reaction from Googlers to the gardens?
"They love it," Huskey said. "It's a place you can go from your office in Manhattan where there is greenery, a place for meditation, a place where there are tomatoes growing."
From any of the terraces, "the view combined with greenery is incredibly beautiful," she said.
Carloftis found the environment of the Internet giant so creative and optimistic that when Country Living magazine called last week and asked whether it could put his name on the masthead as a contributing editor, he declined.
"I don't want to be stuck in one genera. That's the easy way out. I want to do it all," he said.