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COMMUNITY GARDENS PLOTS OF HEAVEN.

Byline: DENNIS McCARTHY

From dawn 'til dusk, they arrive in old work clothes and knee pads at the community garden at Parkman Middle School, where they can spend a few hours working in their 15 square feet of heaven.

It may be 2006 outside the gates of this half-acre plot, but for Bob Blessing, Eli Lyon, Mary Moore, Dave Recht and the rest of the Parkman Gardeners, it's still 1956.

To them, the San Fernando Valley is still the breadbasket of Los Angeles, and there's plenty of opportunity for anyone who doesn't mind getting their hands dirty.

But be warned, Recht says. It's tough work transforming 15 square feet of weeds into delicious vegetables and beautiful flowers.

``If you can't handle the getting up and down, and working in the hot sun, forget about it,'' says the 86-year-old World War II veteran, who lost his left leg fighting at Anzio.

``I love this place. It keeps me busy, I get some exercise, and stay out of my wife's hair a few days a week.''

There are more than 60 community gardens like this one in Los Angeles -- many subsidized by the city or school district.

They are havens for people who live in condos or apartments, and don't have a back or side yard to plant their own garden.

For a nominal fee -- $15 a year for 15 square feet at Parkman -- they join their neighbors in a community garden.

``We used to call them Victory Gardens after the war,'' Recht says, kneeling over his beloved tomatoes. ``We were all pretty broke back then. People divided up some land and we grew our own vegetables to feed our families.''

If you've driven by the community garden located across De Soto Avenue from Kaiser Hospital, you've probably noticed the Parkman Gardeners at work.

Most of them are retired or nearing retirement. Like Recht, they've downsized from homes to condos and apartments -- and they miss their vegetable gardens.

What they grow they eat themselves, or give to charity and community organizations, such as ONEGeneration in Van Nuys, where the vegetables are served with hot lunches for seniors.

Bob Blessing, a retired TRW worker, has managed the community garden for the last 10 years, doling out the flower and vegetable beds when they become available.

``We've got 12 members right now, and four more on a waiting list,'' Blessing said, walking through the garden Monday morning, and saying hi to Eli Lyon, a retired construction worker, Fred DerVoozd, a retired elevator builder, and Mary Moore, who is still working.

``There's just so much energy and knowledge here,'' says Moore, who is on her lunch break.

``It reminds me of gardening with my grandfather growing up, learning about the land. All the guys are so nice. They don't butt in when you're planting, they just go about their business.

``Once in a while, though, they'll give you an `Oh, brother, good luck' look when you're trying to plant something that's tough to grow,'' she said, laughing.

Recht smiles and nods. Call his 15 square feet of heaven whatever you want -- Victory Garden or community garden -- doesn't make a difference to him.

More than 60 years after coming home from World War II with only one leg, he's still feeding his family with the vegetables he grows.

But be warned. It's tough work. If you can't handle the getting up and down, and working in the hot sun, forget about it.

For more information on the Parkman Community Garden, call Blessing at (818) 887-6048.

dennis.mccarthy(at)dailynews.com

(818) 713-3749

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Eli Lyon, left, and Don Kreuzenberger rest in the shade after working their sections of the community garden at Parkman Middle School.

John Lazar/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 13, 2006
Words:626
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