George Pessin fell in love at first bite. Years ago, Pessin was looking around a West Hollywood restaurant’s garden when he decided to taste a strawberry straight from the plant.
It was red, juicy and more flavorful than any berry he’d ever tasted.
And thus began Pessin’s love affair with gardening.
Pessin went onto serve as the restaurant’s gardener, eventually filling a city lot full of plants.
“What really got me into gardening was that I love food and I love to eat, and the way to have the best ingredients is from growing your own,” Pessin said. “There’s just nothing like it.”
Pessin, who has been a master gardener for 14 years, now teaches beginning urban gardeners the ins and outs of soil, seeds and sunlight through the Grow LA Victory Garden Initiative, a program taught by University of California Master Gardener volunteers.
Through the victory garden initiative, people can learn how to grow a garden in a container, their backyard or at a community garden. The four-session course is offered throughout L.A. every spring and fall.
Pessin’s classes are based at the Greystone Mansion, 905 Loma Vista Drive, in Beverly Hills.
On the mansion’s grounds, a garden full of tomatoes, arugula, squash, zucchini and other vegetables fed many garden visitors throughout the summer. This fall, Pessin, alongside his students, will plant a range of fall vegetables.
The focus of the Grow LA Victory Garden Initiative program is to help create a group of gardeners within a community.
Yvonne Savio, a longtime local garden expert, helped start the program in 2010.
The vision for the program was to help ensure that beginning gardeners would not only have the knowledge to start a garden, but also gain a sense of community.
“It isn’t just a singular kind of opportunity for people to have this basic gardening class,” Savio said. “They connect with all these people in their neighborhoods if they want to. It’s not just them and a one-time teacher master gardener. It’s potentially working with a lot of people in their neighborhoods. It can become more of, literally, a community effort.”
Savio said often people want to start gardening but don’t know where to begin.
Her advice is to start small, and be kind to yourself if something fails to grow.
“If you start big, you’re going to get discouraged,” Savio said. “Even the best of us kill things. That’s part of the gardening experience, that you do have failures, and you have to learn to live with that.”
Additionally, it’s much easier for beginning gardeners to succeed if they buy plants from a nursery, rather than starting from seed.
“They can see that something is happening, instead of trying to put these seeds [in the ground],” Savio said. “Especially with little kids, they’ll dump the whole package, and then they have 85,000 little lettuces coming up inside two square inches.”
Additionally, starting with container gardening is much easier to manage. A five-gallon bucket from a home improvement store can work as a great, inexpensive container for plants after drilling a few holes in the bottom for drainage.
And herbs are an easy pathway to growing a garden, although be careful not to water them too much, Savio said.
Overall, anyone with an interest in gardening in L.A. should consider taking a class, whether it be through the Grow LA Victory Garden Initiative or another community resource, Savio said.
Savio said it’s rewarding to see the cost of vegetables at the grocery store and realize the worth of a garden.
“You feel very rich,” she said, “… And it’s just wonderful to say how you produced an entire meal, except for maybe the meat.”
How to get started:
George Pessin is one of many master gardeners who teaches beginning gardening classes through the Grow LA Victory Garden Initiative. To learn more about classes in your neighborhood, along with other learning opportunities, visit the Grow LA Victory Garden Initiative page at celosangeles.ucanr.edu. Additionally, Yvonne Savio offers free L.A.-focused gardening advice at gardeninginla.net. She also gives regular updates about events and classes for all levels of gardeners.