This is the latest in a new series we call Plant PPL, where we interview people of color in the plant world. If you have any suggestions for PPL to include in our series, tag us on Instagram @latimesplants.
Ken Sparks is a sentimental gardener.
The Ohio native’s East L.A. garden is filled with more than 50 types of fruit trees and plants, some of which pay homage to his family and reflect the diversity of his hometown of Twinsburg.
“I have little pieces of home in my garden,” said Sparks, 37, as he identified water lilies and an heirloom beefsteak begonia from his grandmother’s garden. “One of the things that keep me grounded is my garden. It reminds me of my family, and of Ohio.”
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He grew up gardening alongside his grandmother. When she died in July, he planted peach, apple, plum and nectarine trees in her honor.
His terraced backyard is primarily concrete, but he has managed to transform the hardscape into something alive and soft with chickens, a butterfly garden and a surplus of organic vegetables that he has planted in raised beds installed on top of concrete.
In addition to his mini fruit orchard, he is growing corn and carrots; chard and squash; beans and tomatoes. African blue basil and unusual mints — pineapple and strawberry — occupy the bees. As an experiment, he is growing pineapple in a wine casket. And in front, monarch butterflies flock to the parking strip that he removed and replanted with milkweed, sunflowers, butterfly bush and lavender.
Over the years, he has revitalized community gardens in Illinois, Ohio and Watts. “It is imperative that communities are provided with gardening resources, holistic programs and activities,” he said.
So when his work as a musician and a production coordinator stalled, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sparks started Farmer Ken Official on Instagram and pivoted to garden consulting.
Following Blackout Tuesday, and the recent emphasis on Black-owned businesses, his account went from 1,500 followers to 7,000 (he now has more than 12,000).
“A lot of people are reaching out to me for edible gardening advice,” Sparks said. “My goal is to help others start their gardens and expose the community to organic gardening and healthy cooking and eating.”
Why did you start your Instagram account?
I initially started my Instagram account last fall to share my plant and garden journey and connect with other gardeners.
What are your favorite plants?
My favorite plant is the sunflower. They are majestic, hardy, tall and come in a variety of colors. There are many colors other than the traditional yellow ones. I love the multibranched ones because they bloom over an extended period of time. Here in L.A., we