Oscar Duardo in front of amaranth plants in the Milagro Allegro Community Garden in Highland Park. Photo by Christopher Nyerges

The Miracle Garden of Oscar Duardo

2019 A Voice in the NELA Wilderness Christopher Nyerges Columnists December Editions

A Voice in the NELA Wilderness

by Christopher Nyerges

The Milagro Allegro Community Garden in Highland Park got its name from all the “little milagros [miracles] that fell into place for the garden to happen,” says Oscar Duardo, a lifelong resident of Highland Park who helped to create the garden 10 years ago and has run it from the outset.

This December, however, will be Duardo’s last month of actively running the garden, as he turns to other projects.

He leaves the lot where the garden is located – next to an alley behind the Highland Theater – a far better place than he found it.

In 2008, when Duardo first noticed the lot, it was abandoned, trash strewn and frequented by drug users. Duardo and his neighbor, Nicole Gatto, developed a plan for a garden at the site and worked with others to gather signatures on petitions and letters of support. (Ed Reyes, the city councilmember at the time, was a key supporter.)

Then, Duardo and friends met with representatives of the Transportation Department, which owned the lot – and found them very receptive. Nine months later, in November of 2008, they had the approvals they needed.

“It was very serendipitous and that first year was magical,” says Duardo.

With help from the L.A. Conservation Corps and donations from the Highland Park Neighborhood Council, Reyes’ office and Home Depot, raised beds measuring 12×6 were built on the lot, each equipped with a built-to-last, heavy-duty trellis.

There are now 30 raised plots in the garden. The plots are assigned by a lottery system that favors those who live nearest to the garden, says Duardo, adding “we’re primarily a lower-income, under-served community, so our emphasis has been to address that need of our community.”

A variety of vegetables and grains are grown at the garden, which attracts birds, bees and butterflies. One plot is devoted to education; school groups sometimes come for gardening lessons.

“The garden has really changed some peoples’ lives,” says Duardo, who credits gardening with helping people improve their attitudes and energy and even lose weight. Duardo notes that studies show that children who are exposed to nature have fewer problems than those who are not.

There’s every reason to believe that the garden will continue to work its milagros in 2020 and beyond. “The majority who come are first time gardeners,” says Duardo. “But some are really good gardeners – and they share their knowledge with the others.”

For more information on Milagro Allegro, go to Hpgarden.org

Christopher Nyerges can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com..