After several months of intense planning, fielding applications and lining up guest presenters, the 2012 Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase is ready to blossom into full springtime effect.

Now in its fourth year, the garden showcase is back for another encore. It features residences within the Mar Vista boundary line with varying degrees of environmentally friendly devices, lush gardens landscapes, edible gardens and water-retention features.

There will be approximately 98 residences on this year’s tour, beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 21. The garden showcase has grown exponentially since it was launched in 2008.

Sherri Akers, a co-chair of the Mar Vista Community Council’s Green Committee and an event organizer, said the garden showcase provides the organizers with helpful hints on how the public is responding to it so they can plan accordingly for the next event.

“Each year we learn a little more about how to make it better for our guests,” she said.

The outings typically have representatives who are on hand at many homes to offer advice on sustainability. Last year solar energy, led by the American Solar Energy Society’s National Solar Tour, was one of the main features of the showcase.

Akers said this year the organizers chose to focus on the diversity of the various gardens. There will also be a special emphasis on the critical need for ocean-friendly gardens and habitats that support much needed pollinators such as honeybees and Monarch butterflies.

There are also several new entries on the tour, including the homes of professional landscape architects.

Katherine Spitz is a part of the tour for the first time. A landscape architect, she has been working on her Mountain View Avenue home’s garden for over 20 years.

“This is the first time that I’ve had time to be a part of the tour, and I’m very happy to participate this year,” said Spitz, who designs residential gardens and helped create several for the 2009 showcase.

Spitz said working on her own garden has been an eye-opening experience. “In your professional life (as a landscape architect), you really have to hone in and tell clients how their garden can work best for their needs,” she explained. “With your own garden, you have to treat yourself as if you were a client.

“When you’re doing your own garden, you can imagine so many possibilities,” she continued. “You can make it personal.”

Joan Rubin and her husband, Martin, are on the tour for the third time. “I enjoy gardening,” she said. She has been helping her neighbor install California native plants, as she has in her garden. “That’s a good reason to have them, to save water,” she said.

The Rubins front lawn was recently certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a wildlife habitat. They have also planted lettuce and mustard in the front of the house. “We’ve seen a lot of Monarch butterflies recently in our yard,” Martin Rubin said.

Jeanne Kuntz, Akers’ co-chair on the committee, says the more people have the opportunity to see gardens and residences with sustainable features, they are inspired to become more environmentally friendly. “People see them and want to make their own changes,” she said.

Joan Rubin agrees. “The garden tour is really great because it inspires people,” she added.

Spitz says she often has dinner outside in the back yard on Sunday nights because of its comfortable feeling. But when she began designing the space and envisioning what it would look like several years into the future, it seemed like a lot of work. “When it’s your own garden, it can be the most challenging and the most intimate thing to you,” she said.

Over the last six years, Mar Vista has become one of the region’s foremost leaders in sustainable living. The garden tour was largely conceived at the local farmers market, which provides space to the green committee and it also serves as a forum for those seeking information or tips on sustainability.

Akers thinks people can relate to what they see in the various homes and how it can affect or improve their own lives. “Everything that we need to do to take care of our planet happens in our yards,” she said.

Preventing storm water runoff that eventually finds its way into the ocean through water capture, the use of solar power to reduce electricity bills and replacing lawns and installing hardscapes to limit watering are some of the features that Akers was referring to that can regularly be seen at homes on the tour.

Environmental organizations that often have guest presenters on hand at specific homes to assist guests with ideas on how to green their homes frequently have members of their organizations participating in the showcase as well. Nancy Hastings, the Southern California field coordinator for Santa Monica-based Surfrider Foundation, has been part of the tour for the last two years. Her front lawn is also a certified wildlife habitat and contains a water retention device.

Guest presenters are always an important component of the garden showcase. This year’s lineup will include HoneyLove.org, Los Angeles County Master Gardeners, the Seed Library of Los Angeles, Native Green LLC, Open Neighborhoods, Transition and Label GMO’s. Landscape designers, solar installers and service providers will also be at gardens to answer questions and share information.

The committee is working with Honey.Love on an initiative that would establish an urban beekeeping pilot program in Mar Vista. The community council approved the measure, which now waits approval by the Los Angeles City Council.

The conservation nonprofit organization’s mission is to protect honeybees, as well as inspire and educate new urban beekeepers. At several homes, including Spitz’s, bees can be seen buzzing around trees and plants.

Gardens at four schools – Walgrove Avenue and Windward elementary schools, Mark Twain Middle School and Venice High School – will be featured this year.

The 2012 tour will also include six self-guided walking and biking tours to address sustainability in daily living, say the event’s organizers.

Akers, a green consultant, did not expect the garden tour to become an annual event after the first showcase, when political leaders and conservationists discussed the water crisis endlessly. “We all thought that it would be a one-time thing,” she recalled. “Now that it has its own momentum it really is a reflection of all of the participants.”

Spitz says she has seen many of her neighbors’ front lawns change in recent years since the showcase began. “It has helped to create a much more pleasant streetscape,” she said.

Kuntz said having a cadre of dedicated volunteers makes the effort run more efficiently and she feels that one measure of the tour’s success is the increase in participation each year. “We have so many committed participants who want to be a part of the showcase,” she noted. “(Some aspects of the showcase) have gotten easier because of such committed people.”

A large number of people find it difficult to be able to attend lectures or screening on sustainability, even if they have a deep interest in the concept, Akers believes. That is why she and others think the garden tour can be an alternative to spending two to three hours at an indoor event. “(On the showcase tour) you get 10-minute snippets of information and the opportunity to talk one-on-one with experts,” she said.

A preview of the gardens and a map of the locations are available at: http://marvistagreengardenshowcase.com.

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