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Eco Echo Park tour includes terraced garden where the spirit of sharing runs deep

November 10, 2010 |  6:30 am

Rhett-Beavers-portrait

When landscape architect Rhett Beavers uncovered the remnants of a communal orchard behind his 1927 Spanish Revival cottage in Echo Park, he understood why: The neighborhood had been a part of Red Gulch, a moniker that reflected the politics of residents who settled here in the 1920s.

Rhett-Beavers-sandstoneThough the local political climate may have since changed, Beavers was impressed with what the landscape still symbolizes today. He shares his bounty of tangerines, oranges and sapotes with neighbors, and his steeply sloped, 3,000-square-foot garden maintains the unfenced transitions between his property and adjacent lots. Rhett-Beavers-red-chairsBeavers' garden has a series of entrances and exits, so that visitors can move easily through plantings and seating areas set on more or less five levels, all carefully organized by the terraced, walled and stepped hardscape.

The garden, one stop on the Eco Echo Park tour Sunday, is a compelling argument against what so many people do when they move into a new home: Rip out the landscape and start over. When Beavers bought his house a decade ago, he knew he needed time to get acquainted with it.

"Something special had gone on here," he says, "but I had to wait a while to find out what it was."

While he waited, there was work: He spent the first year hauling some things out ­— trees, rocks, dead plants — but he left terraces built by a succession of owners. That included a patio at the house level, trellised by a grapevine.

Then he began hauling in native stone, which he used to build dry-stacked walls. He brought in more stone for paving, which he dry-laid in sand, to allow water to seep into the soil. He built a dry stream bed for capturing runoff.

A number of older plants and smaller trees — agave, citrus, sapote and a Western redbud — stayed while Beavers added garden rooms, including one with sages, artemesia and lion's paws. Seasonal greens flourish on the upper terraces, where arugula serves as an edible groundcover. He is slowly adding California natives to create habitat for animals, including raccoons, opossums, skunks, squirrels, bluejays, mockingbirds and lizards.

Keep reading for more details on the garden and on the tour Sunday ...

Rhett-Beavers-Tradescantia

Beavers says the garden is drought-tolerant at heart. He hand-waters plantings closest to the house and in the edible garden. From a large compost bin he makes planting soil. Like the garden's past, it all takes time to develop.

"I know this hillside is a part of a larger place, a larger story," Beavers says. "The most important lesson I learned as a garden builder was not to rush. I let this place speak to me. Now I see the garden every morning as a sea of light."

Eco Echo Park: Urban Sustainable Living is a self-guided tour of 10 homes and gardens with various green elements, including gray-water systems, solar power, passive cooling and heating, urban farming, drought-tolerant landscaping and energy-saving retrofits. The event is sponsored by the Echo Park Historical Society. It runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $15 in advance purchased online, $20 on day of event. The tour starts at Williams Hall in Barlow Hospital, 2000 Stadium Way, Los Angeles.

We're working on a full photo gallery of Beavers' garden. Bookmark us and check back later in the week.

-- Paula Panich

Photo credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

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