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The Dry Garden: Mar Vista's gardens open for browsing

April 22, 2011 |  7:56 am

Emily1 
The Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase turns 3 on April 30. More than 80 homes will be open to the public. Twenty garden designers will be on hand to discuss landscapes that save water and power. Thirteen homes will have their solar power installers there to explain the ins and outs of leasing or buying panels. It’s a safe bet that there will be some young capitalists seizing on the influx of an estimated 2,000 people to sell lemonade. Also expect a few glad-handers, because this project of the Mar Vista Community Council is a honey pot for politicians. It’s genuine community action and it’s insanely popular.

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It started off simply enough, recalled organizer Sherri Akers. Three years ago, the green committee of her community council was wondering what to do for Earth Day. A member had just been on a tour of edible gardens in Vancouver. The committee liked the idea. Then the city of Los Angeles brought in lawn watering restrictions. The Mar Vista group decided to broaden the tour theme from food gardens to conservation in general. What started as 40 open houses quickly jumped to 80 last year and 82 this year.

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For those not quite sure where Mar Vista is located, think of when you take the National exit off the 10 Freeway and proceed to get lost between Culver City and Santa Monica. That’s Mar Vista, a surprisingly large area of aerospace-era housing whose lots and home sizes make them excellent models for conversion to sustainability. They’re not big, they’re not tiny. If Los Angeles has an “average home,” the Mar Vista bungalow may well be it.

Eighty-two gardens are 70-some too many for most of us to see in a day, so visitors are encouraged to go to the tour website  and design a route. You can choose by zone or area of interest. To do the latter, keep scrolling, watching the right-hand side of a perhaps too busy home page. Under the heading “Garden Tour,” there is a panel of topics. Some, such as “backyard open,” are in tour-speak (that example means you’ll be allowed through the side gate).  But most are clear. A simple click on “blower free zone,” or “cactus and succulents,” or composting, or “edible,” or “wildlife habitat,” or “landscape designer at garden,” enables you to tailor your tour.

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Special emphasis has been put on homes with solar panels this year; however, the over-arching theme remains highlighting of alternatives to lawn: vegetables, native gardens, and “ocean-friendly” gardening (meaning that there is no run-off into city storm drains). Roughly a quarter of the gardens have professional designers behind them, but many are the work of inspired amateurs. (Above, designer Marilee Kuhlmann of Comfort Zones is shown at her home.) Perhaps the richest single cluster of gardens are to be found on Redwood Avenue, where one can park and stroll from home to home. Another idea for those driving into the area would be to find a shady parking spot, then unload bikes for the tour.

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However many homes you see, I urge you to attend this tour. Admission is free. It’s a thrilling snapshot of what the hippest conservationists in town are doing in their own backyards. Their gardens brim with native plants, shade trees, fruit, vegetables and good roses (that’s you, "Mr Lincoln," above). Most admirable in a world where being environmentally minded for one themed day is too often offered as a lame panacea for being wasteful the rest of the year, this is so much more than a chronological gimmick. Outside of this wallapalooza tour, the organizers host a conservation stall every Sunday at the Mar Vista Farmers Market

-- Emily Green

Photos by Emily Green / For The Times

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