Community Garden Riches

English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) thriving in a community garden plot

English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) thriving in a community garden plot

The other day, while visiting a community garden, I was admiring an immaculate plot of cabbages and chard when a woman, whose adjacent plot was less tidy, engaged me in conversation. “Some gardens are so perfect that working in them becomes an obligation,” she said. “My garden is just a lot of fun.”
Community gardens are actually dozens of independent little gardens – each no more than a few hundred square feet in size – pushed up against one another. Each garden has its own personality, reflective of the person who cares for it. A community garden is a microcosm of our world, an expression of different, if not contradictory human characteristics and attitudes side by side.
One garden celebrates a strong work ethic and a commitment to neatness. Vegetables are lined up in perfect rows. The soil is freshly cultivated. Decomposed granite paths are set out with mathematical precision between raised beds. It is obvious that weeds would not dare to grow in such a place.
Another garden, less neat than the first, is an ode to folk remedies for combating garden pests. There is a miniature scarecrow and metallic ribbons on tall poles. Bags of hair and soap hang from trees. Plastic milk containers, half filled with water but with tops cut off are irregularly placed. Such drastic measures indicate an uncanny awareness of birds, rodents, deer and, perhaps, some imaginary beasts.
There is also a collection of plants protected all around and even overhead by fine netting, a kind of horticultural security system to keep out climbing and flying creatures and, it may well be, wandering human hands. The marigold holds a prominent position in this redoubt; it is a plant with a legendary capacity for repelling pests by means of both its flowers and its roots.
Every now and then, while wandering among the bell peppers and the cosmos and the brussels sprouts, you come across what might charitably be called a back-to-nature project, since weeds are virtually the only plants visible.
Most people seem to concentrate on vegetable crops, but there also are several herb and flower gardens. Strolling through a community garden is always a learning experience. Resident gardeners advise you how to grow plants you’ve never had any luck with or give you information about remarkable, yet
obscure plants, such as 10-foot dahlias or fava beans.
Community gardens are bastions of trust and good faith. At any time of the day or night, 365 days a year, there is free access to these areas. Yes, people do occasionally come in and surreptitiously harvest from the gardens, but such occurrences are rare.
The popularity of community gardens is the best indication of their success. Nearly all of them are occupied fully, and plots rarely become available. Renting a plot is usually $20 to $80 per year, including water. Recently, a community garden, in conjunction with a horticulture class, was started at Hughes Middle School in Woodland Hills. For details on joining this class and getting a garden plot, contact Maureen Depolo at (818) 346-3540, Ext. 380.
After the earthquake, there exists a real possibility of changing Los Angeles through transformation of the environment. Plenty of community gardens exist, but many more could be created. At virtually every school in the San Fernando Valley, there are large expanses of land that formerly were agriculture and horticulture areas, but, in the wake of budget cuts, have become weed fields. These areas easily could be converted to community gardens. Many of those who take advantage of community gardens are seniors, who also would be the best candidates for supervision of such gardens.
H.E.D. Reid of Los Angeles writes as follows: “I hate ivy! I have clipped, hacked and sawn a lot of it but seem unable to get rid of it entirely. I have also used root removal liquid, which hasn’t worked at all. I would appreciate your advice.” I have eradicated ivy by digging it up, roots and all, and then scrupulously pulling every new shoot that appeared. This campaign was completed successfully after about five years. If you don’t have the stamina for such a long-term crusade, you might try mixing glyphosate (Round-Up herbicide) with a surfactant, a substance that makes water and chemicals stick to slippery surfaces, such as the ivy leaf. Surfactants are sold at most nurseries. Round-Up applied by itself will not kill ivy.
Tip: Pansies are the most popular fall flowers in Southern California. Pansy flowers can be used as the decorative final touch on a salad, since they are eminently edible, as are their cousins, Johnny jump ups, as well as the sweet violets.

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