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A roof full of vegetables at the Cobb apartments on skid row

October 14, 2011 |  6:00 am

Cobb Givens
The Charles Cobb Apartments had a roof open for gardening in the middle of skid row. The Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council had some loft dwellers pining for space to grow things.

All it took was a lunch to bring them together.

And just months later, the gardeners and their supporters celebrated their first season on a scorcher of an afternoon Wednesday on the roof of the Charles Cobb Apartments, drinking lemonade and marveling at the sunflowers, watermelon vines, bushes of basil and other plants.

Cobb marigolds"I had no idea it would look like it does now. You look now, and wow. We have really come a long way," said Edward Givens, a Cobb resident who with Raymond Lyons came up to the roof every day to water and weed and nurture the plants. (Those are marigolds at right, planted in hopes of providing natural pest control.)

At the party Wednesday, they were just about the only people smart enough to wear hats against the sun. But of course, few other people know the roof as well as they know it.

"You’re right in the middle of the city and you come up here -- it’s like a different world. It’s like an oasis in the sky," said Givens, pictured at the top of the post looking at collard greens with Alexandra Paxton, project manager for the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles.

The gardeners began in March, shortly after Patti Berman, president of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, had lunch with Molly Rysman, director of external affairs for the Skid Row Housing Trust. The trust develops, manages and operates homes for the homeless, including the Cobb apartments.

"This just took off," Berman said at the party on Wednesday. "We couldn’t be more thrilled."

Jayne Torres, one of the gardeners, said the partnership is wonderful. "It’s good for the 'lofites,’ great for the residents of these buildings who want to garden but don’t have the resources to make it happen," she said.

Torres, along with Kris Hopfenbeck and Ryan Rogers, formed Ur-Bin, a downtown L.A. "garden network," as a subcommittee of the neighborhood council. One of them came to the Cobb every Wednesday to garden and to teach residents how to garden.

Cobb tomato
The roof, with 360-degree views of mountains and the downtown skyline and wide open to the sky, has shallow beds set off by lounge areas and walkways. In the beds, the gardeners put 55-gallon plastic drums that had been sliced horizontally or vertically to make planters.

Some of the planters were covered with colorful paintings by the residents, but "we got so busy we didn’t have time to paint them all," said Hopfenbeck, who got donations from Kellogg Garden Products and Bonnie Plants. The neighborhood council and Skid Row Housing donated funds.

The garden has lots of herbs, green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, peppers, chard and other greens, and more. Two black plastic bins allow for composting.

Some of the Cobb residents decided to garden independently, in their own containers. Others took to the communal space. The food is available to everyone in the building, though it’s preferred that people learn a little about the work before harvesting.

Cobb LyonsLyons, at right holding a pea pod he helped to grow, is the son of a soldier who moved around a lot as a child. He said he always had "some sort of a garden." He or Givens comes up to the roof every day; some of Cobb's 72 other residents take part less often.

"I just go upstairs now instead of going to the store. It’s fresh," said Lyons, who has been pickling some of the vegetables. "It’s wonderful to know about your own food.

"Whoever wants it can come up. If we don’t eat it, the birds will," he said, adding that he loves watching the birds and butterflies that the garden has attracted.

Torres moved to the Orpheum Lofts about six years ago.

"After about the third year, I thought, ‘I need to figure this gardening thing out.’ I really missed it," she said. She went to a neighborhood council meeting, and that was the start of what Ur-Bin hopes will green many spaces downtown. The members are looking at a courtyard at the Las Americas Hotel on 6th Street for their next project.

Rysman said the Cobb rooftop is more than just a garden.

"This is what recovery really looks like," she said. "I love the smell -- and we’re standing in the middle of skid row."

For an easy way to follow our garden coverage, join our Facebook page dedicated to gardening in the West.

Cobb Walker
Jacques Walker, one of the Cobb residents who helps in the garden, checks one of the planters filled with edibles during the party Wednesday.

ALSO:

A year in community gardens

The Dry Garden: Sustainable landscaping every week

Cobb apartments: Designed for better living

 -- Mary MacVean

Photos: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

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