Boardwalk attractions and beach thrills take a backseat in Venice this weekend when the area gears up for an annual showcase of one of its lesser known attractions — its lavish gardens.

The Venice Garden Tour, where homeowners and residents with elaborate and stylish gardens open their gates up to ticket holders, is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 6th, starting at the Neighborhood Youth Association’s Las Doradas Children’s Center, 804 Broadway Ave., Venice. Tickets are $60 in advance or $70 the day of the event. Children under 12 are admitted free. The tour is a benefit for the children’s center, which provides childcare and after-school academic programs for “at-risk” children.

About 30 gardens are included on the tour, which has been held annually for the past 12 years. Docents at each location will answer questions and provide lists of plants. Organizers encourage tour-goers to show up no later than 2 p.m. in order to be able to take in all the gardens on the tour.

Tour-goers walk, bike or drive from stop to stop. A shuttle is also available to guide people along the tour of the sites, which are approximately within a one-mile radius.

This year’s tour has expanded to included architecturally-intriguing homes, including 11 bungalow-style apartments used to house brides of soldiers fighting in World War II.

Venice has always been a petri dish for lifestyle experiments, and is home to many of the nation’s most innovative architects and landscapers, according to the Neighborhood Youth Association. Many of the area’s older beach bungalows (now renovated) as well as newer dwellings of contemporary design will be featured on the tour. This year, the tour will highlight the use of new construction and plant materials in homes and gardens, and juxtapositions in texture.

Each year, different neighborhoods are featured on the tour. This year, properties located near Abbot Kinney Boulevard will be featured, including gardens only accessible by the area’s “walk streets.”

Many of the gardens encompass entire yards (small as some Venice yards may be) with a focus on replacing high maintenance grass lawns with visually interesting plants and shrubs that are more native and manageable in the Southern California environment, organizers say.

Landscapes sculpted by designers Jay Griffith, Russ Cletta, Barry Campion, Stefan Hammerschmidt, Mark Tessler and Kathleen Irvine will be featured on the tour.

The tour was started as a fundraising idea by acclaimed Venice landscape designer Griffith along with Venice community leaders Linda Lucks and Jan Brilliot, in response to the financial needs of the Neighborhood Youth Association’s Las Doradas Children’s Center and Learning Center.

“As early as November, I start walking the neighborhoods in Venice, peering over fences, knocking on doors, looking for beautiful gardens to feature on the tour,” says Brilliot, saving fellow garden enthusiasts the trouble. “Usually people are pretty receptive to opening their properties up and being part of the tour.”

The tour is now a main fundraiser for the programming of the Las Doradas Children’s Center,

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Neighborhood Youth Association, a charity started in 1906 by the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.

“The Las Doradas Children’s Center is a safe haven for children with bright minds who are carefully nurtured by a dedicated staff,” says Vendella Barnett, executive director of the Neighborhood Youth Association. “These children become effective learners who are ready to enter and excel in kindergarten,” she says, detailing the mission of the program.

Information, (310) 821-1857.

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