By: Mike Sullivan, MA, LMHC
Alumni and Family Services Director
Approaching Wattles Farm from Hollywood Boulevard is surreal. A short walk from the iconic walk of fame in the heart of Hollywood, one navigates speeding sports cars, stoplights (which apparently aren’t enforced), and screaming police sirens to find the gate encircling the margins of Wattles Farm. After traversing an ancient avocado grove, one emerges in the 4.2 acre organic garden of eden- a setting that couldn’t be more dichotomous from the immediate surroundings of bustling Hollywood.
The garden was reminiscent of Pacific Quest- meandering paths lined with rocks and downed limbs, tropical fruits draping from tree branches, and luscious garden beds overflowing with lettuce and kale. Travis Slagle and I felt at peace as we toured the garden, taking time to absorb every element of the Wattles oasis. We basked in the familiarity of the natural landscape and reprieve from the urban gridlock surrounding us.
Head Gardenmaster for 23+ years, Toby Leaman, introduced Travis and I to the array of work needed to maintain Wattles garden. She identified specific areas that our Pacific Quest alumni group could complete during our community service garden project the following day. Travis observed closely as Toby showed him where the invasive onion grass was overtaking the roses and geranium, as well as where the rock wall was eroding. While many people may view the immense undertaking Toby outlined as a nuisance, Travis and Toby see potential. Being gardeners in their heart and healers/role models for youth, the garden is a means to connecting with something greater – a deeper sense of self and greater connection with community. Excitement grew as we refined our plans for our project the following day.
Our alumni group dug into our community service project at 10 AM. Smiles, laughs, and reminiscing about funny stories from Hawaii ensued, while the group maintained diligence and attention to eradicating the onion grass. The group overhauled the rose and geranium beds, creating a discernable difference. Apparently that project wasn’t enough, as the group then devoured the opportunity to weed a long pathway through the avocado orchard. Toby exclaimed what an amazing group of volunteers we were, highlighting our attention to detail and positive attitudes.
Over a nutritious lunch and closing circle, the group discussed some observations throughout the day. Many noted “being in the present” and “sharing a common goal,” as being significant aspects of the project. Others shared a sense of fun, camaraderie, peacefulness, and giving back. Each of these observations speaks to the power of gardening and intention- when we set aside computers and phones, carve out a shared gardening project, we find meaning. The group observed that the experience was far from insignificant, but rather served as an amazing conduit for connection and leaving a legacy for others in the future. It was certainly a memorable Sunday!
I want to share a huge THANK YOU to Toby Leaman for being such a warm host and project leader. I also want to thank the Pacific Quest alumni for their dedication to others and desire to continue to deepen their self awareness. And lastly I want to thank the entire community for maintaining Wattles Farm for others to enjoy. Community gardens are a growing movement, and one can see layers of significance far greater than just providing salad greens.