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Attack of the gargantuan gourds at Granada Hills garden

August 17, 2011 |  9:30 am

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Community Gardens Dispatch No. 43: Granada Hills Salad Bowl

2-Granada-Zaman The bottle gourd hanging down from the trellis in Sayed Zaman’s plot in the Granada Hills Salad Bowl community garden is a fearsome fruit, yard-long pods that look like something from “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers." On the vine they are pendulous and heavy. Nearby, several dried gourds are stacked and Zaman shakes one, rattling the seeds inside.

“You prepare it like zucchini,” says Zaman, right. “But it tastes better. Zucchini doesn’t have a flavor. This is aromatic.”

The leaves and flowers also are edible, he adds. Plus hollow dried gourds have other uses -- as bottles, water scoops or, with the addition of strings, musical instruments. Not far away grows a variety of pumpkin (like Zaman, Bangladeshi in origin) and sweeter than its American cousin.

These treasures in his space were brought as seeds from home, and he harvests more seed all the time. For other plants, he turns to the Kitazawa Seed Co. A friend comes up to show a package of Kitazawa ngo gai seeds -- saw leaf, a cilantro-like herb that is stronger in flavor and used throughout Southeast Asia in soups, stews, sauces and marinades.

This garden started 51 years ago on Department of Water and Power land, right below the Odyssey restaurant. One of the first gardeners nicknamed the place “the salad bowl garden,” and the name stuck.

2-Granada-Peschke Founder Betty Peschke, now 82, right, had arrived from Wisconsin. Thanks to her friendship with then-Mayor Tom Bradley’s father -- a fig enthusiast who also kept chickens -- Peschke was able to establish the garden. In those days, she was here eight hours a day, every day, working one of her 10 plots.

The garden occupies a 1.5-acre parcel on Rinaldi Street, bordered by a hedge of mature fruiting pomegranate and avocado trees. The 128 plots are large -- 12 by 30 feet each -- and shared among 38 families whose origins stretch from Jamaica to the East Indies. Pete Pableo, from the Philippines, has a bitter melon sharing a trellis with a riotous loofah, which has surged into the avocado tree overhead.
He’s most proud of his close-cropped bed of malunggay, also known as Moringa oleifera, a drought-resistant tree that is largely edible -- roots, leaves, flowers and pods. 

2-Granada-cat The leaves, cooked like spinach, are highly nutritious, particularly for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers. The 2-foot-long pods yield seeds that are eaten in soups and stews to ease the pain of arthritis. Some think that the seeds also work as a natural Viagra.

The garden gets a steady supply of horse manure from an equestrian center along with well-aged compost donated by Waste Management in Sun Valley. The garden has three rototillers, two of which usually work.

“After so long, the earth is in good shape,” says Bob Olander, the former head of the garden. Rats and gophers used to be a problem, but now the garden supports a half-dozen cats, all-neutered, he adds. The addition has done wonders to keep the pest population down.

Olander has been at the garden for 15 years. He irrigates his Brandywine tomatoes with emitter lines while the East Indian gardeners flood their crops.

“It’s a different style of gardening,” he says with a shrug, pointing out a plot belonging to their resident  master gardener, a native of Louisiana. That plot is done in the French intensive style, the plants tightly together and in small quantities.

“Gardeners are a unique breed,” he says. “And they all do it differently.”

-- Jeff Spurrier

Dispatches  from community gardens -- the people, the plantings, the problems and the solutions -- appear here every Wednesday. For an easy way to follow future installments, join our Facebook gardening page.

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Bob Olander, among the tomatoes in his plot.

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Dong Lee weeds in her plot using a traditional Korean hand tool.

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Ripening peppers.

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Mystery plant!

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A bean that gardeners call sim, used in Indian cooking.

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A bottle gourd plant flowers around a PVC pipe used to store tools.

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Summer refreshment at a table in the Granada Hills Salad Bowl garden.

Photos: Ann Summa

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