At Rosewood Community Garden, a wild taste of Central America in urban East Hollywood
Walk through the Rosewood Community Garden and you'll see roots running all the way back to Central America, where most of the 25 plot-holders originated.
More than a dozen varieties of chiles are grown here, including the tiny diente de perro (dog’s tooth) and the Santo Domingo from Honduras. Sugar cane, bird of paradise and banana plants tower over the nasturtium and marigold-lined pathways, and everywhere the creeping vines of chayote and passion fruit run rampant. There’s chilacayote, a white squash that looks like a watermelon and is used for smoothies and candies; nearby is kishtan, pictured above, an ivy-like vine whose leaves are a basis for a Guatemalan version of mole verde. Everybody here seems to grow ruda, the odiferous medicinal bush.
Once you've taken in all the plants, you notice the dolls, plushies and found objects scattered throughout the greenery, adding a sense of whimsy. A rabbit hutch stands near the entrance, but the only rabbit visible here is a 4-foot-high stuffed Bugs Bunny, leaning languidly in the common area. Mickey Mouse is perched on a fence post, while Santa stares out from behind the jasmine-covered chain link fence.
The toys are for the amusement of kids, says Nery Reyes, who helped establish the garden in 1999. He has a vibrant blackberry bush growing in the back common area, started from a cutting from the garden of Yvonne Savio, who runs the master gardener program for L.A.
An experimental compost pit that's about the size of a grave contains nothing but rotten fruit and rinds, the remnants from fruit cart vendors. Because Reyes doesn’t turn the compost, it won’t be ready for more than six months. Mango seedlings and pineapple crowns sprout amid flies, and some of the seedlings actually could be transplanted.
Gardener Mariano Dias Vasquez, right, has a similar propensity for do-it-yourself propagation. After a poinsettia finishes blooming around Christmas, he prunes the bare stalks and lays them flat in the ground to start new cuttings for the following year. He does the same with the roses.
“As long as the dirt is moist, it will grow,” he says.
Apartment dweller Blanca Estrada works nearby and visits the garden almost every day, accompanied by her Chihuahua, Panchito Guapo. (They're pictured near the top of the post.)
“I come when he gets stressed or bored,” she says. She checks on her plot to make sure nothing has been harvested without her knowledge. Theft is an issue here, as in most community gardens. Losing a squash is annoying, but when someone takes four bags of amended soil, that's something else entirely.
When the gate is left unlocked, Reyes says, nongardeners from the neighborhood come in and help themselves.
Still, fending off thieves is a small price for Rosewood gardeners to pay for a taste of home. They're growing an ice cream bean tree, used in Guatemala as canopy for coffee bushes, and Estrada is looking forward to the day when it starts pumping out foot-long pods, the seeds wrapped in a sweet cotton that tastes of vanilla.
“It’s muy delicious,” she says.
-- Jeff Spurrier
Dispatches from community gardens appear here every Wednesday. For an easy way to follow future installments of this series, join our Facebook page dedicated to gardening in the West.
Photos: Ann Summa