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Venice High's Learning Garden, a locavore's delight

December 22, 2010 |  1:15 pm

Community Gardens dispatch No. 13: Learning Garden, Venice

The Learning Garden at Venice High School is not an official community garden but rather an educational lab open to the community. Gardeners from Beethoven Street Elementary School and UCLA Extension mix with the Venice High gardening club and students from Yo San University and Emperor's College of Traditional Oriental Medicine.

Venice-learning-garden-king-and-tree-V On a cold Saturday a few weeks ago, garden master David King hosted the first meeting of the Seed Library of Los Angeles, believed to be L.A.'s first regional seed bank. For the $10 membership fee, gardeners can "borrow" the seeds of specific edibles -- heirloom Waltham 29 broccoli, for example. Part of the resulting crop must then be allowed to flower and go to seed, allowing the borrower to return fresh seed stock to the library.

"As seeds grow out repeatedly in our soil and microclimates, they adapt," says King, whose background is in plant propagation, mainly of fruit trees. (That's him at left, with his dog, Tree.)

Far more quickly than one could achieve at home, a variation of Waltham broccoli specific to Los Angeles or even specific to Venice can be developed, better suited to local conditions.

It's a locavore's dream.

The Learning Garden's acre of land includes a shade house, two composting areas and remnants of a 1920s-era greenhouse, a relic of the garden's 100-year-plus history as an educational resource.

For decades the land had been fallow, its classic Dave Austin Gertrude Jekyll roses regularly weed-whacked down to a nubbin by the high school's maintenance staff. The nonprofit Learning Garden started in 2001, and now more than 60 fruit trees grow on the perimeter and public Tai Chi classes run in a meeting area. And no automated or mechanical irrigation is allowed, anywhere -- no drip lines, no soaker hoses, no timers.

Venice-learning-garden-walker-HThe mandate to water by hand is really a lesson, King said.

 "I don't want students to think they are not needed," he said. "We don't want you watering because it's Tuesday. You water when the plant needs it. I tell my classes if you're putting on extra skin lotion, go water."

One place where no watering is allowed at all is an area devoted to California natives and succulents, which were planted and are maintained by volunteer Christine Walker, right. She only waters when she transplants.

Venice-learning-garden-walker-soil-HShe has spent years amending the clay soil with gravel and rock collected on the side of the road during her daily commute to Ventura. The earth is chaparral-friendly, and until she brought in native soil, she never had seedlings appearing uninvited. Now the California native section is the star of the garden in spring. 

-- Jeff Spurrier

Community garden dispatches appear here every Wednesday. Use our Facebook page to get alerts about new articles on gardening in the West.

Next week: grafting for the future

Edibles peek out of the ground.

A plant tag for a Chinese herb.

Rose blooms and rose hips.

A young tree waits for transplanting.

Photo credits: Ann Summa


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Community garden as pocket park

Raised beds for better crops

Gardening in buckets