This is the newest in a brand new sequence we name Plant PPL, the place we interview folks of colour within the plant world. If you’ve any ideas for PPL to incorporate in our sequence, tag us on Instagram @latimesplants.

Ken Sparks is a sentimental gardener.

The Ohio native’s East L.A. garden is stuffed with greater than 50 forms of fruit timber and crops, a few of which pay homage to his household and replicate the variety of his hometown of Twinsburg.

“I have little pieces of home in my garden,” mentioned Sparks, 37, as he recognized water lilies and an heirloom beefsteak begonia from his grandmother’s garden. “One of the issues that preserve me grounded is my garden. It jogs my memory of my household and of Ohio. “

He grew up gardening alongside his grandmother. When she died in July 2019, he planted peach, apple, plum and nectarine timber in her honor.

His terraced yard is primarily concrete, however he has managed to rework the hardscape into one thing alive and mushy with chickens, a butterfly garden and a surplus of natural greens he has planted in raised beds put in on prime of concrete.

In addition to his mini fruit orchard, he’s rising corn and carrots; chard and squash; beans and tomatoes. African blue basil and weird mints — pineapple and strawberry — occupy the bees. As an experiment, he’s rising pineapple in a wine casket. And in entrance, monarch butterflies flock to the parking strip he eliminated and replanted with milkweed, sunflowers, butterfly bush and lavender.

Over the years, he has revitalized neighborhood gardens in Illinois, Ohio and Watts. “It is imperative that communities are provided with gardening resources, holistic programs and activities,” he mentioned.

So when his work as a musician and a manufacturing coordinator stalled because of the coronavirus pandemic, Sparks began Farmer Ken Official on Instagram and pivoted to garden consulting.

Following Blackout Tuesday, and the latest emphasis on Black-owned companies, his account went from 1,500 followers to 7,000 (he now has greater than 10,000).

“A lot of people are reaching out to me for edible gardening advice,” Sparks mentioned. “My goal is to help others start their gardens and expose the community to organic gardening and healthy cooking and eating.”

Why did you begin your Instagram account?

I initially began my Instagram account final fall to share my plant and garden journey and join with different gardeners.

What are your favourite crops?

My favourite plant is the sunflower. They are majestic, hardy, tall and are available in quite a lot of colours. There are many colours aside from the normal yellow ones. I like the multibranched ones as a result of they bloom over an prolonged time period. Here in L.A., we will develop them year-round. They additionally entice pollinators, that are wanted for the fruit to develop. Sunflowers even have the unbelievable capacity to tug heavy metals from the soil and clear contaminated soil.

What are your plans for when the pandemic is over?

The implementation of neighborhood garden areas in areas the place area is restricted, which is widespread in lots of urban communities, and serving to to determine a standard place the place folks can have the plot to develop their very own produce.

Additionally, garden schooling is essential. There are expertise which can be discovered by means of expertise and there’s a science behind a few of the strategies which can be used. One of my objectives is to equip folks with information to achieve success with their very own gardens.

I’ve launched my Etsy store, which has some crops, herbs and seeds for buy. I’ve additionally supplied contemporary eggs and herbs at a neighborhood farmers market. For garden session, the Farmer Ken Co., I’m offering garden planning and implementation to purchasers which can be tailor-made to their area and wishes. (This could have some limitations resulting from COVID-19.)

Ken Sparks at dwelling in East Los Angeles.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Can you supply any recommendation to individuals who, such as you, have plenty of concrete?

There are plenty of artistic methods to develop and make the most of area. You can develop in raised beds, pots and planter packing containers. To develop my garden, I positioned six raised beds on prime of a concrete space in my yard. In these raised beds I’m rising corn, squash, carrots, garlic, chard, kale, cucumber, beans, lettuce and tomatoes. I’m additionally rising strawberries and a few herbs in pots.

Many greens can efficiently be grown in smaller areas, and there are specific varieties that require much less area. For occasion, bush beans [and] bush cucumbers produce full-sized fruit that don’t kind lengthy trailing vines. Husky cherry tomatoes are compact and excellent for a patio garden area. Dwarf and ultra-dwarf cultivars of fruit timber produce full-sized fruit however take up far much less area than full-sized timber. Kale, chard, lettuces, spinach, greens, carrots [and] tomatoes can develop in small areas. Many herbs additionally do nicely in pots.

Ken Sparks holds a zucchini.

Ken Sparks holds a zucchini.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

How do you resolve what edibles to develop?

I resolve what to develop based mostly on the season. Here in California, cool-weather crops are grown in fall, winter and early spring, and hot-weather crops are grown in the summertime. Some examples of cool-weather crops are lettuce, peas, greens, spinach. Some examples of summer season crops are corn, beans, zucchini, tomatoes. I additionally develop quite a lot of fruit timber and shrubs together with apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, mangoes, blackberries, blueberries, pomegranates, citrus and bananas that ripen at varied occasions all year long. Gardening is about experimentation, and I typically develop crops “out of season” to see if they are going to efficiently produce.

You’ve labored with children in Chicago and Los Angeles. How does gardening affect them?

One of the best impacts that I’ve seen is watching youth take delight and possession in designing and planning their rising area and harvesting their very own meals. I take a holistic method in packages that I’ve applied, whereas partnerships have been developed to offer wholesome cooking and health alternatives for youth, their households and the neighborhood.

Coming from Ohio and Illinois, what’s essentially the most thrilling factor so that you can develop right here?

I’m most enthusiastic about rising something tropical that I used to be not capable of develop in a colder local weather. One of my present garden favorites is my mango tree. I even have a few mangoes growing this 12 months and am excited to attempt them!

A monarch butterfly feeds on milkweed.

Sparks’ small sidewalk garden contains milkweed, good for attracting monarch butterflies.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

What is an important factor to find out about rising your individual meals?

The flavors of homegrown meals are a lot brisker than these you buy from the shop. Having your individual garden may be very rewarding, and it’s also therapeutic. It is superb whenever you plant your seeds, nurture your crops and reap the reward of your harvest! You additionally know precisely what you might be placing in your physique, versus probably not figuring out what byproducts you might be consuming whenever you buy from the shop. I develop organically and pesticide-free.

You are sentimental about crops. Can you share why?

I’m very sentimental about a few of my crops. I’ve an heirloom beefsteak begonia potted in one among my garden areas. I began the plant from a small chopping after my grandmother handed away final 12 months and it began blooming this 12 months. It is like having a bit of dwelling right here in my garden area in L.A.


Sunflowers shine vibrant within the small sidewalk garden.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Lisa Boone –

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