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In Silver Lake, community garden as pocket park

December 8, 2010 |  7:00 am

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Community gardens dispatch No. 11: Manzanita Street, Silver Lake

Manzanita Street is the smallest community garden in Los Angeles: 13 irregularly shaped plots terraced into a hill and bisected by stairs linking Sunset Boulevard to a cul-de-sac below. It's near the heart of Sunset Junction yet largely invisible, unless you're looking for it.

The neighborhood can be a hard place to garden. Car traffic on Sunset is heavy, and the odd syringe or crack pipe may litter the stairs. The soil is thick clay, with traces of arsenic in one section, and the terraced layout means a constant battle with rainwater runoff.

Manzanita-Trina-2 Despite all that, Manzanita has its charms and the turnover in plots here is low. It's a true urban pocket garden, like something you'd see in lower Manhattan except Cali-style, with a surprising burst of roses and chamomile, asparagus and artichoke, blossoming along the cracked 1920s concrete stairs.

"We really want to paint these steps," says Trina Calderon, right, the garden's coordinator, adding that a sign would be nice too. She's not holding her breath. It took the city three years to fix a broken streetlight above the garden's twin gates.

Still, she's not complaining. The microclimate is ideal for some plants that typically suffer in the heat of summer. Lettuces, artichoke and flowers all thrive here, and the succulents attract tours from the Southern California Horticultural Society. Calderon planted two artichoke plants a few years ago and wound up with a bumper crop this year. "I got sick of eating them," she says.

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Her neighbor, Phyllis Hauser, pictured at top, took an organic gardening class to learn how to fix the soil in her 70-square-foot plot. She built a no-dig, lasagna-style bed made of chicken-wire topped with layers of newspaper, fertilizer, compost, straw and planting mix. The results were so good that when the bugs began eating one of her cauliflowers, she could be philosophical and let them feed.

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"One thing I learned in the class was you don't get rid of pests," Hauser says. "You accommodate them."

Manzanita-Glenda Fellow gardener Glenda Lockard, right, was equally sanguine when her late-season watermelon put out lots of flowers but no fruit. "We left it in anyway," she says of the plant. "That's part of it: surrendering to the process."

-- Jeff Spurrier

Spurrier's dispatches from community gardens appear every Wednesday.

Trina Calderon photo credit: Jeff Spurrier

All other photo credits: Ann Summa

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The compost bins at the Manzanita Street Garden bear messages for the gardeners.

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