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Beyond the Lawn: Mar Vista's Green Gardens

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This story has been published in tandem with a segment for KCET's award-winning TV show "SoCal Connected." Watch it here now.

Living a green lifestyle must involve foregoing one of the greenest components of the American dream: a yard. Increasing water shortages across the Southland, and the state overall, have brought into question the necessity of a lush, grassy lawn in front of one's home. Unlike the back yard, it tends to not receive much foot traffic from playful kiddos or lawn party attendees. While it's mostly decorative in nature, it serves as a marker of status for many and, oftentimes, is a point of pride for those able to maintain it.

Yet, years before this most recent drought settled in, residents in several pockets of Mar Vista began leading the charge in digging up those green expanses and replacing them a variety of more sustainable and drought-friendly alternatives. On April 26, the Mar Vista Community Council hosted the 6th Annual Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase, where residents and local schools opened their doors up to curious green thumbs. Expert landscapers were on hand to give tutorials as well as first-timers who learned the ropes as they transformed into more eco-conscious homeowners.

The tour was divided up into six clusters, with about five to eight homes each and an elementary school, all within a few walkable blocks. Here are a few standout homes from the tour:


1904 Walgrove Avenue
Here, master gardener Julie Strnad -- who also lives in the neighborhood --was on hand to meet and greet those walking up to inspect the succulent-heavy garden. As with many of the homes, the resident left the explaining up to the expert and was not on hand to meet and greet. After a burst pipe damaged the front lawn, the homeowners were ready to finally rip up their grass and put in an open, modern succulent garden. Finished in August of 2012, it requires very little in the terms of weekly maintenance: timed sprinklers twice a week for two minutes.


3782 Redwood Avenue
This home's garden was primarily remodeled by the homeowner over the course of the last nine years. They've leaned towards an "edible garden," meaning that almost every square inch of the front and back yard is dedicated to growing food, including cherries, apples, avocados, figs, limes, blueberries, nasturtiums, and more. While the homeowners were eager to show off the literal fruits of their labor, they were also honest with the curious crowd of visitors in terms of the amount of time it took to maintain their edible garden. It's reduced their outdoor water consumption by more than 50%, proving to be a time investment that's paid of for them.


3783 Redwood Ave
After hiring gardeners to remove their front lawn and lay the large stepping stones, these homeowners took on the bulk of the new design and planting. It features mostly native Californian plants that tend to also be more drought resistant. There are vegetable gardens and potted herbs, all of which are aided by rain barrels located around the property. Most of the plants are watered once or twice a month, with hand watering added for a few select vegetables and herbs.


3241 Granville Ave.
Located on Mar Vista's north side, this new addition to this year's garden tour features drought-friendly plants and grasses, including rosemary in both the front and side yards. To fill in the areas around the stepping stones leading from the street to the front porch, they've used crushed granite alongside blooming agaves, sage, and a magnolia tree. This is a prime example of a simpler concept of lawn overhaul, leaning mostly on replacing the turf with plants more indigenous to the climate.


3247 Granville Ave.
Just a ways further down the block on Granville, this residence expertly shows how well rainwater catchment can contribute to a sustainable yard. The infiltration pit in the front yard and the rain chains on every one of the property's gutters collect roof rainwater runoff and keeps that water from returning to the street drains. After a 2010 remodel, the front and back gardens were redesigned and include Mediterranean and California native plants, as well as an edible garden and fruit trees. Landscaper Susanne Jett was on site to also explain to visitors how, during the remodel, the walking and driving surfaces on the property were all designed to minimize water runoff returning to the street and, instead, keep it within the confines of the yards.


3273 Granville Ave.
Next door to this property, it's easy to see what it looked like not too long ago: piles of scorched ivy pouring down the hilly front lawn. These homeowners ditched their water-hording ivy in favor of succulents that would rely on drip irrigation and LED lighting. The garden infrastructure was also designed so that it would capture runoff from the hill as it moved down the tiers instead of running into the street. There are California natives alongside the more than 30 types of succulents, all of which are aided by free mulch the homeowner has obtained from the city.


3323 Granville Ave.
Here, landscaper Gabriella Fladd was on hand to help explain the work she put into renovating this lawn. Primarily, the project serves as an example of the $2 a square foot rebate offer the city has offered to those willing to remove their lawn and replace it with more conservation-friendly alternatives. LADWP also ponied up $200 for a weather-based irrigation controller. Fladd eagerly showed off the gorgeous landscaping design she crafted for the residents, featuring all kinds of California friendly plants and grasses, including sage, California poppies, agaves, strawberries, manzanita, and more.

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