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GroEdibles Blog

Oct 9

Lost Potential: Benign or not…I can’t bear the sight of a neglected patch of earth

Posted by HGEL on 9 Oct 2009. Filed under  Community Outreach Sustainability Gardens View Comments

Really…. I can’t bear the sight of a neglected garden or an “under-utilized” patch of real estate! Say I’m crazy…but you HGELers know what I mean. A garden is our little slice of earth. A place where we are quiet, peaceful, contemplative. Three things that we seldom are during the normal course of our crazy day.  It’s our refuge.  A place to reconnect with nature, our family, ourselves and, for some, our community. We consider it our privilege to nurture life from the soil that in turn sustains us….a nod to a simpler, more basic way of life.

To see the great intentions of a planted garden become ignored and neglected…or a patch of precious unused earth (these days a rare commodity especially in urban settings) is an intensely sad thing. Right? That’s the feeling we get when we pass one. Even when I’m working on rejuvenating community and parental involvement for a public school, many times I start by rejuvenating the school’s landscape.  A well-tended garden or landscape sends a powerful message – it says “I am loved, treasured, cared for”.

The ironic thing is that even the most ardent gardener among us has, at one time or another, become overwhelmed by family, work…life in general and have ignored a wilting plant, skipped a feeding or two, turned a blind eye to the growing jungle of weeds and passed with down-cast eyes that deeply loved, but now neglected garden. Yep, we’ve all been there but the simple fact that we are mere mortals doesn’t diminish our commitment to our lovely gardens. As surely as the seasons change, we gardeners will find the time somewhere….sometime to get back out there and spread the love again.  We are truly connected to the gardens we tend.

But what happens when a commercial enterprise bites off more than it can chew, edible garden-wise? Are they really prepared and do they even realize what it takes to make an edible garden – or any kind of landscape – work for the bottom line? This is why many gardens fail…yes, even the ones we attempt at home. Education is the key and, of course, time.

“Incredible!”, you say “…a commercial enterprise with an edible garden?”.  No…wait AND an almost completely native plant landscape with water-conserving irrigation? An enlightened, forward-thinking for-profit institution, is that possible? Go ask Alice…Waters that is!

But, yes, happily they do exist. And that is what struck me the first time I walked the grounds of Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes just south of Los Angeles. If any of you know this new resort which opened in the summer of 2009, you probably know that the development has been in the news during its decade-plus of planning, construction and now, during its struggles opening in this challenging economy*.  Yes, the cynic in me notes that they had to agree to strict guidelines in their architecture and treatment of the land in order to build, but it becomes obvious very quickly when you walk along the beautiful natural public trails winding through the native gardens along the cliffs overlooking the Pacific down through the public access way to a rustic and gorgeous cove that this wasn’t just a typical developer’s superficial attempt at conforming to stringent guidelines. This was more. This landscape was speaking to me…..and then I saw the raised beds outside of mar’sel restaurant.  Ok, they weren’t huge but there they were…four raised beds outside of the restaurant.  Planted, yes, but oh my….to say that they were struggling is to be putting it mildly.  What good intentions going to waste here. What message could a successful and productive garden send to the public strolling by to the beach or on their way to dinner? “Here we are! We’re growing our own food just like you!” the garden could shout out! “Come see what we’re doing and be inspired!” the garden could scream! I couldn’t just walk away.

I immediately wrote a letter to the Executive Vice President and Managing Director of the resort describing my initial excitement about what they had done with their landscaping theme but also my disappointment at the unrealized potential of their edible garden. I went on to describe my history and mission as a Master Gardener and edible landscaper. Then…and here is where many of you will shake your heads…I offered to rejuvenate their edible gardens as a volunteer for a year. This little garden failed once…I knew that if it didn’t present any financial risk to the resort, they couldn’t say no. I also knew that if I didn’t do something, their general landscapers would throw some flowers in the beds and that would be that, end of story. Yes, as long as we could agree on using the gardens to teach and as an instrument of outreach to the community, a bit of marketing for me and, of course, as a “training camp” for their staff to ensure the garden’s future, I’d donate my time. I also loved that the little garden would help mar’sel further realize their mission of sustainability.

I got a call within a couple of weeks and an invitation to meet with the resort’s Executive Chef and Food and Beverage Director.  During our meeting, I was delighted with the obvious enthusiasm and commitment they both demonstrated toward developing a sustainable, organic production and, eventually, a learning demonstration garden.  In fact the Food and Beverage Director ran an acre production garden at his former post with the Ritz Carlton on Maui…so I knew he was sold! “What happened to the garden?”, I asked them. They looked at each other and admitted that what was lacking was the time and knowledge to do the garden justice. New gardeners – does that sound familiar? Of course there were some other fundamental issues also with the soil and irrigation, but, with some commitment and education, these challenges can be overcome as you all know. So they’re giving the edible garden another try! I hope those of you that are new to edible gardening who may have suffered through some failures of your own will give your garden patches another try too. This time…you won’t be alone!

A blank slate

The very thing we love about gardening -the refuge- can sometimes feel a bit lonely when you are faced with a problem you don’t know how to solve. Sure there are books, but sometimes…you just need someone to talk to.  I created this blog (in addition to the Facebook fan page and Twitter) as an additional support to you as you too plan and plant your fall garden. Once the mar’sel garden is established, I will send you notices via the HGEL fan page on Facebook and this website of the schedule of “hands-on” classes and other events that we’ll be doing in the garden at mar’sel from time to time.  For the most part, these classes will be free or will have a small materials fee if we’re doing something fancy or a fee if lunch is included.

Could this concept be spread to other commercial enterprises? Certainly given this economic climate, businesses must re-examining the way they are using their landscapes; trying to keep themselves relevant to their community. Why not? Stay tuned…Here we go! Come along for an edible adventure!

For updates on this and other commercial HGEL volunteer projects please see the “Commercial Gardens” page on this site. If you live in the South Bay or Los Angeles area and would like to be trained by HGEL as a volunteer ‘garden caretaker’ in one of our commercial gardens, please contact us at

*UPDATE: I am happy to report that earlier this month (October 2010) Terranea has successfully found new investors and recapitalized lifting the cloud of financial uncertainty that the resort was struggling through since its opening in the summer of 2009 at the height of this country’s recession.

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