At ex-Hollywood playground for discontented youth, the only punks now are the gophers

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Community Gardens Dispatch No. 18: Wattles Farm, Hollywood

Wattles Farm is one of the legendary urban gardens in Los Angeles, situated on 4 acres on the grounds of the historic Wattles Mansion, now a park run by the city. The garden started in the mid-1970s when local residents started farming in what had been an avocado and fruit orchard on the slope north of Hollywood Boulevard. For a while it was a favorite after-hours playground for the first generation of Hollywood punk fans.

The punks have gone, but the 170 garden plots that you see today are a playground for a different kind of uninvited guests: gophers.


Steve Montiglio got his 15-by-15-foot plot here last fall, and one of his first jobs was to deal with the ubiquitous rodents whose holes dot the walkways and gardens. He dug down 18 inches and laid galvanized chicken wire on the bottom of wooden frames, essentially creating an enclosed bed that sat at ground level.

‘When we were digging out the hole, they would be popping in from the sides,’ says Montiglio, right, shaking his head. ‘I would see them all the time — just their eyes, usually. But there hasn’t been any activity where the wire is down, so I think it works.’

Like most of the Wattles gardeners, Montiglio lives nearby. After pulling an all-nighter finishing a set design for a client in New York, he comes up to the garden to de-stress, to dig, to water seedlings coming up and to tend a few rescued plants. Gina Thomas, the head of the garden’s tree committee, told him to yank out a sad-looking rose in his plot, but he can’t bring himself to do it. ‘Gina has that ruthless gardener thing,’ Montiglio says. ‘I’m not there yet.’

A few plots away, Tom Houlden also had a gopher problem. Last year they ate all of his beans -- four months of work. But he does have that ruthless gardener thing. He put out a trap and nailed the culprit.

‘People told me they pick certain crops and won’t eat garlic or onion,’ he says of the gophers. ‘But that’s what they were eating. They eat the roots and literally suck everything down -- like a cartoon, like in ‘Caddyshack.’ ‘

But dealing with hungry rodents is a small price to pay for Houlden, above, and others to garden here. The fee is just $79 a year, although that may be raised this year. The west-facing slope gets great sun and is surrounded by mature avocado trees, some nearly 100 years old, providing a towering barrier from winds that race down the Hollywood Hills. The original avocado trees are impressive, but the fruit doesn’t taste so good anymore, Thomas says. She should know. She has been at Wattles more than 30 years and has been largely responsible for the planting of scores of fruit trees in the common areas. Many of them are exotic: papaya, mango, guava, Asiatic pear, Brazilian Surinam cherry and star fruit, right. There’s Gold Sapote and an ice cream bean tree -- often used as a canopy tree for coffee, which also grows here.

Some of Thomas’ latest additions include Camellia sinensis, the shrub whose leaves are used for tea. She has two Japanese, two Chinese and one Indian variety; from the same plant you can get three different types of tea, from green to oolong to black, depending on the harvesting and the preparation of the leaf. They have been in the ground just three months, but they look healthy.

‘I hope to get a pound from each,’ she says.

-- Jeff Spurrier

Next week: A Wattles tree tour.

From left: Garfield lends his support to a staked plant; Gina Thomas helps to maintain the garden’s fruit trees; sneakers as objet d'art.

The garden spreads across 4 acres in Hollywood.

Dispatches from community gardens appear every Wednesday. You can follow the scene by joining our Facebook page dedicated to gardening in the West.


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