At Parks Day on February 25, the City of Santa Monica celebrated and held activities at four parks — the re-opening of Reed and Los Amigos Parks, the re-imagined Stewart Street Park, which was renamed Gandara Park, and the new Ishihara Park, which during its planning stages, was referred to as the ‘The Buffer Park.’ The highlight of the day for the gardeners of the Santa Monica Community Gardens was the opening of The Learning Garden at Ishihara Park. The park was established to function as a buffer zone from the Expo Line maintenance yard. During the planning stages, one of the requests from the community was to include a place for Stewart Street and Pico neighborhood residents to learn how to garden.

The park is named after George Ishihara, a Japanese-American, whose family was interned in the U.S concentration camps during World War II. Mr. Ishihara joined the U.S. Army to show his loyalty to the county and, poignantly, his unit was the one that liberated the Dachau concentration camp in Germany. Mr. Ishihara lived in the Stewart Street neighborhood from the late 1950’s until his death in 2009, growing roots deep into the community with his children and grandchildren also growing up and living in Santa Monica.

It is fitting that this park, on the 75th anniversary of executive order 9066, which ordered the internment of Japanese Americans into concentration camps, is named after Mr. Ishihara. And it is even more fitting that, in the current national political climate, the Learning Garden will welcome everyone from the Stewart Street and Pico neighborhoods, as well as Santa Monica residents at large.

The Learning Garden is a communal garden and differs from the other community garden sites in that it there are no individual plots. Instead it will host seminars and workshops for children and adults alike. There will be communal planting and harvest opportunities and many chances to help cultivate the gardens in between planting and harvesting.

The Learning Garden sits at the end of the long narrow park. It’s approach is framed by a colonnade of eighteen citrus trees; the city’s first urban fruit tree orchard. They are young trees, about shoulder height, but are producing fruit. A few steps away from the urban fruit tree orchard is a fenced-in area with raised garden beds – three large beds in the center, flanked by six narrower beds on the side. The site also includes a composting area.

Teague Weybright, the Community Garden Program Specialist, is at the helm of the Learning Garden. Teague came to head the garden program in September of 2016. He is a Master Gardener, has served as a board member and President of the Board of the Los Angeles Community Garden Council for the past thirteen years, and as Director of Conservation Programs for the Los Angeles Conservation Corps. Previous to leading the Santa Monica Community Gardens, he worked for the City of Santa Monica in the CREST G.R.O.W.S. Program as the lead in Environmental Stewardship.

On Parks Day there were several planting activities and seminars lead by city staff, with help from community gardeners and community volunteers. Educational opportunities abounded. Children gasped with delight as Teague unearthed a grub. “How can you tell if it’s a boy or a girl?” one child asked. They were able to plant seeds in the Learning Garden’s raised beds and to take home seedlings. The community gardeners provided information and brochures on gardening and the importance of native milkweed for monarch butterflies. Participants even enjoyed lemonade sourced from Ishihara Garden’s own urban fruit tree orchard!

We are in the process of planning monthly events at the Learning Garden and would welcome your input. Surveys are available at the Clover Park Office (2600 Ocean Park Boulevard). Also, if you would like to be on the mailing list and receive information related to future events, programs, and workshops at Ishihara Park please email us at gardens@smgov.net.

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