L.A.'s Learning Garden

Garden master David King grew up in Kansas and picked up his green skills from his grandfather. “In my teen years it wasn't cool, but I came back to horticulture as an adult,” he says. After working in UCLA's research greenhouses, in 2002 King jumped at the opportunity to manage the Learning Garden, a successful teaching space at Venice High School. He'll be at Dwell on Design this year to talk about Venice High's program and to clue us into how gardening makes for an amazing educational experience. Here's a preview of what he'll discuss on Sunday, June 26th on the Sustainability Stage.

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Learning Garden Rows

What are the particular pleasures of gardening in Los Angeles?
The growing season in L.A. is fantastic! We have no frost days (which means no cherries and few pears or apples) but we have two springs. The soil is good—Los Angeles used to be a major agricultural center producing a lot of food earlier in its history. But, probably because it is so easy to garden here, there is a lot of bad gardening—neglect of plants is epidemic. We have very little of our own water and yet we have lawns. If folks grasped that we spend a huge chunk of our energy dollars just piping water into L.A., I think we would change our habits.
Urban edible gardens are getting a lot of attention these days. Why are they important?
The price of food is going up and will continue to go up as the price of oil goes up. We will see an energy crunch that will necessitate cities growing a lot of their own food to avoid shipping. Besides, most of the compost is produced in cities and most of the food is consumed in cities, so it makes sense that cities should be the site where most food is produced.
To those who maintain they can’t garden because they don't have a backyard, what would you say?
Look for a community garden. The American Community Gardening Association has many of them listed or can point you in the right direction. If there isn’t one nearby, try to find a neighbor with outdoor space who wants a garden but can’t put in the time, and work out a way to share the harvest. As a last resort, look at container gardening—you can even grow some veggies on a fire escape.

A sunny day at the Learning Garden at Venice High School.
A sunny day at the Learning Garden at Venice High School.

Besides the Learning Garden, what's your favorite public garden or green space in Los Angeles?
Oh gosh… Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden is a California Native heaven, I love it. The Huntington (everyone else calls it a library, but to me it is a garden) has a lot of different plant communities, but recently started a 'farm' to grow organic food and serve as a teaching garden. I'm very enthusiastic about their direction lately.

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