The advent of spring inevitably brings warmer weather, sunnier dispositions and the promise of longer days. And in Mar Vista, for the last two years its has signaled the community’s Green Garden Showcase, a parade of homes where the owners have incorporated the concept of cohesive neighborhoods and sustainability.

Now in its third year, the garden tour’s organizers have added a few new wrinkles to this year’s showcase, which will feature 84 gardens that have varying degrees of green living. On the 2011 version, which will take place Saturday, April 30, there will be a number of edible gardens, as well as a variety of homes that will display drought resistant landscaping, water capture and composting techniques.

In addition, this year’s showcase will include hosting the American Solar Energy Society’s National tour.

The edible garden portion is one of the showcase’s components that excites Sherri Akers, one of the tour’s organizers. “There is such a huge movement of families starting urban gardens,” she said.

Akers, who is the co-chair of the Mar Vista Community Council’s Green Committee, said Los Angeles County Garden Masters come to their booth at the Mar Vista Farmers Market once a month to provide information on urban gardens.

Cindy Teele will be one of the homeowners opening her front and back yards to the public this year. Teele, an attorney in Santa Monica, had her front lawn designed by a Mar Vista landscape architect, Heather Trilling, who also designed one of the homes on the 2010 tour.

“I wanted to do something different with my front lawn, and I was amazed at the different types of plant life that I saw last year,” said Teele, who visited a number of homes in last year’s showcase. “I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to go about doing it.”

That is one of the showcase’s primary benefits, says Jeanne Kuntz, another garden tour organizer. “There will be experts on different areas of sustainability at a variety of homes, so anyone taking the tour can learn something as they visit each garden,” Kuntz said.

Teele’s garden has marigolds, milkweed plants and Bears Lime, Meyers Lemon, pink lemonade and pomegranate trees, and she also grows seasonal vegetables like zucchini and tomatoes all year.

Nancy Hastings has one of the gardens that took part in last year’s tour. Beginning in 2007, Hastings removed all of the grass from her front lawn, which she says was her only expense, and added a variety of different stepping stones as well as native and drought tolerant plants.

Like Teele, Hastings is growing fruits and vegetables in her front lawn, including onions and strawberries. Last year, Hastings’ garden was certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a wildlife habitat.

Akers says she often hears how homeowners who have reconfigured their front lawns have also begun spending more time outside in the front of their homes and have become more social with their neighbors.

“As you visit the gardens, what jumps out at you is that people are living in this space. There is outdoor seating and there are outdoor activities,” she said. “When you spend time in your front yard, you meet neighbors. It really feels like we have returned to the 1950s.”

Teele has already noticed that she and her daughter Caroline interact more with people walking their pets past their home when they are in the front lawn.

“We wanted to be able to enjoy our time out here, and we really do,” said Teele, whose lawn was recently designated a Monarch butterfly way station. “My daughter will sit and do her homework out here and we get the chance to see many of our neighbors.”

Kelly Garcia and her husband also have an edible urban garden where they are growing Japanese Eggplant, tomatoes, basil, cilantro, radish, carrots, squash, green beans and lettuce. They originally wanted to build a fence where their son could play in the front yard, but soon were inspired to remove all of the grass from their lawn and put down concrete pads as a patio space and planted many drought tolerant plants.

Hastings, the Southern California regional director for the Surfrider Foundation, had a rain barrel installed two years ago and is now proudly harvesting water from her roof, which allows the water to be captured on her lawn and not run into the street.

“The number-one cause of ocean pollution is (water) runoff,” Hastings noted. “So anything that we can do to reduce the amount of water that leaves our property means that we’re helping to improve Santa Monica Bay’s water quality.”

“Surfrider is extremely excited to be a part of the tour” she continued. “We look forward to educating people at 3783 Redwood Ave. about urban runoff and keeping our oceans clean”

Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Mar Vista, will be visiting homes on the tour as he did last year. “This is the third time for the showcase; the third time is the charm and this tour is a charm,” said the councilman, who lives in Mar Vista.

“On my block I have seen people turning away from the old ways and trying to live in a more sustainable manner, and that’s thanks to the community council’s green committee and to the garden showcase organizers. I’m very, very proud of my constituents.”

Akers advises first time visitors to the tour to pace themselves. “It’s like going to Disneyland – you can’t expect to see it all,” the event organizer said. “Make sure you pick some of the gardens that have the backyard open since you can’t see those on your own the rest of the year.

Kuntz said hearing about people like Teele who take the tour and then are inspired to change the way they live is very gratifying.

“It’s a very fascinating aspect of (the showcase),” she said. “It really shows that actions speak louder than words.”

Akers said she admires Mar Vista residents for their commitment to sustainability and for their proactive and progressive views on how to live a more environmentally friendly existence.

“What I love most about this event is that these homeowners don’t wait for Earth Day to do something green,” she noted. “It is how they live every day – composting, conserving water, growing their own food, generating their own power.

“It’s exciting to have people meet them and see how easy, and how much fun, it is to ‘live green.’”

The tour will begin at 11 a.m.Information about the tour can be found at www.marvistagreengardenshowcase.blogspot.com. Maps of the tour can also be downloaded from the website.

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