The Learning Garden was founded on the grounds of Venice High School in 2001 and, until his recent retirement, its Garden Master was David King, a regular and welcome presence — with his students — at our annual scion exchange. Over all these past 23 years –despite repeated threats of extermination by the LAUSD – the Garden has continued to grow both physically and philosophically. While of course there are fruit trees and the very successful rhubarb patch David boasted about when we first started our WLA rhubarb project, the Garden is now also home to one of the most extensive Chinese Medicinal gardens in the country. The students of Yo San University of Traditional Chinese Medicine have played a major role in the development of this garden where traditional Chinese Medicine schools are trained from seed to harvest to medicinal use by world experts.
There is also a relatively new Tea Garden – complete with Camellia Sinensis black tea, as well as a variety of herbal tea plants, including hibiscus, rose hips, valerian, chamomile and more.
There is a Native California Garden with more than a hundred different types of native California species, as well as a Fiber Arts Garden which has attracted natural dyers thrilled at the colors that these plants bring to fabric.
And notably there is an Ancient Grain Garden which was planted by our chapter’s own master baker Wendy Temple! (You can see her in the Learning Garden video here.
There is also a Seed Saving Garden, a tribute to David King’s long emphasis on developing and fostering the plant strains most successful in our climate. As he was quoted saying in an LA Times blog: “As seeds grow out repeatedly in our soil and microclimates, they adapt. Far more quickly than one could achieve at home , a variation (for example) of Waltham broccoli specific to Los Angeles or even specific to Venice can be developed, better suited to local conditions.”
And finally, of most interest to us Rare Fruit Growers, is the Tropical Garden where the papaya tree and dragon fruit planted years ago are now both accompanied by bananas, hibiscus, pineapple, kiwi, cassava and more.
But beyond all these horticultural must-sees, perhaps the most important achievement of The Learning Garden has been the continual growth of programs and gardens it has inspired over the years. With very little funding, The Learning Garden has demonstrated the true meaning of sustainability through community spirit and volunteerism. Over 250 high school students a year are trained in organic horticulture, and many have pursued careers in horticulture related fields. In its Seed to Sale program, students learn the process from planting to harvesting to selling at the local Farmers Market. Art students regularly use the garden to draw and paint. The science classes are out in the compost piles learning the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles. Much as we saw at Steve List’s Sylmar Learning Center, the Learning Garden at Venice High has inspired and supported gardens at many of its feeder schools so that garden curriculum is developing from Kindergarten thru High School.
This is definitely a can’t miss field trip (subject of course to weather!) See you there.