In 1987, Ruth Phillips, an occupational therapist at Sepulveda VA Medical Center in North Hills, came up with the idea of using gardening as a means of therapy and self-improvement for retired and disabled veterans.
Eleven years later, her vision has transformed the backyard of Building 4 at the center into an organic garden paradise.
Plump potatoes, leafy lettuce and ripe red tomatoes sprout out of the soil in the 2,000-square-foot garden. Corn stalks rise 7 feet above the ground. And marigolds, carnations and petunias co-exist with the vegetables.
On Wednesday, sugar cane became the latest addition.
"We're planting them in honor of President Clinton's trip to China. That's where sugar cane originated," said Phillips, who serves as coordinator for what has become the center's horticulture program. "Also, right now is a good time to plant sugar canes because they get damaged during the cold season."
Under Phillips' direction, retired veterans Howard Levine, Karl Seddig and John Briley planted five sugar cane sections near an 8-foot brick wall along the north end of the backyard Wednesday.