Forget aphids and gophers; the worst pests at L.A. community garden are the thieves


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Community Gardens Dispatch No. 32: Sepulveda Garden Center, Encino

At age 45, this gracefully aging beauty is continually being reborn. Annual kitchen crops rise next to an heirloom-filled plot with plants that are decades old. This community garden is also a public park, and because the plots get extra attraction, some gardeners go all out. The inspired mixes with the whimsical, and the vibe is Monticello meets Woodstock. The full diorama of Southern California gardening -- hits and misses -- is on display.


Unfortunately, the displays are so tempting, they have spurred some to steal fruit, vegetables and plants. Veteran gardeners say some of the thieves are park-goers wandering though, and others are fellow gardeners. The thieves are brazen, filling up bags and lying when confronted.

When Liz Langford, right, planted her first crop nearly 20 years ago, she says, the garden had none of the head-high fences that you see now and certainly no locks. She put in her fence last year after the thieves got too greedy, moving beyond the mere clipping of bulbous broccoli tops.

“People were coming in and stealing bulbs,” she says. “They were digging them up with shovels. When people pick flowers it’s irritating, but when they steal your bulbs …”

She has three plots and isn’t sure if she will keep them in the winter.

“This garden is an asset, just a little oasis,’ she says. Buying food at a store probably would be less expensive, given all that goes into plants, ‘but you’re out here and exercising and meeting people. I’ve always considered it my therapy.’

Nearby, Letty Alkhabban is reading the newspaper at the edge of the lawn, next to an exuberant butterfly garden of lantana, milkweed, sage, Mexican bird of paradise and a type of Egyptian star cluster called Butterfly Pink.

She was on the waiting list for a plot for about a year, and she is planning to plant her garden with her two kids.


“I’m going to plant lots of basil,’ says Alkhabban, right. ‘I make pesto every summer and freeze it for winter. And tomatoes, of course, and my kids are going to plant sunflower and watermelon. We’ll see what takes.”

She’s new to the garden, having moved to the San Fernando Valley from Riverside, where she lived on a quarter acre. Now she’s in a condo with a patio.

“I used to have a lot of ornamentals,’ she says, ‘but why grow them now when I can come here and enjoy everybody else’s?”

New gardeners Jennifer and Matt Payne are also living in a condo with their children. After a two-year wait, they have had their plot for two weeks. They look ecstatic.

“The kids didn’t like digging the weeds, but they don’t mind getting dirty,” Jennifer says. “Sydney was making dirt angels last week.’

She and her husband, both novices, want to plant pumpkins and sunflowers. ‘Both our parents grew up on farms and had enough of it,’ she says. ‘But it’s great for these guys to get their hands dirty and see how everything works.”



Wanted: Dirt

Community garden as food bank

Photos: The first six months of this series

-- Jeff Spurrier

The Payne family, from left: Matt, Stanley, Sydney and Jennifer.


Thunbergia and jasmine cover a fence.

An intruder of a different sort.

These dispatches appear here every Wednesday. For an easy way to follow future installments, join our Facebook page dedicated to gardening in the West.