In 1994, Venice landscape architect Jay Griffith along with Venice residents Linda Lucks and Jan Brilliot founded the Secret Gardens of Venice Tour to give financial support to the Neighborhood Youth Association’s Las Doradas Children’s Center, a licensed care facility in Oakwood that provides full-time, education-based childcare to low-income working families.
In operation since 1991, the center offers “at-risk” children an opportunity for the care and additional guidance that prepares them to be effective learners, and to instill in them the values to become productive community members in the future.
By 2001, due to the gracious involvement of homeowners and participation of the community, Venice’s gardens were no longer a secret and the name was changed to Venice Garden Tour. In 2006, another dimension was added to highlight the new architecture that was transforming Venice streetscapes. This annual event became the Venice Garden & Home Tour.
This year’s tour will be in two neighborhoods — Palms/Milwood and Oakwood. In a sense, some of what will be shown goes back to the original secret gardens.
Co-chair Brilliot was determined to find gardens in Oakwood and she started knocking on doors, talking to people and discovering what was going on behind gates on the street and in the alley.
“I know people come to Venice for the big fancy houses and the eye candy, but, I think people are also drawn here because they like what is a little off-beat or something they would never find in their own neighborhood,” she says.
What Jan found represents a sense of community along with sustainability — people living in smaller houses in close proximity of each other, having smaller gardens and sharing common interests.
One example is Alan Moyle and Chiyoko Tanaka, who bought their single family home on a 5,600-square foot lot in 1999 and several years later added an adjacent 5,600-square foot lot with four units when their neighbor moved.
Today, Alan calls their compound the “Republic of Chiyoko-san.” “It’s her little world,” he says. For many years Chiyoko was a writer for a Japanese rock and roll magazine. Now, she lends her creative talents to her home.
Originally, there was no landscaping except bougainvillea. A chain link fence covered only half of the perimeter and the house was in need of repair.
“Little by little, by trial and error we did some experiments,” says Chiyoko. “We think it’s almost done, but maybe not yet.” Alan describes their garden as “funk.” “We have resigned ourselves to that,” he says.
Funk or not, it is a fanciful endeavor that extends all around the 11,200-square foot lot blending the outdoor spaces into one. Paramount to its intangible quality is the selection of tenants, they say.
“We are particular about who we rent to,” says Alan. “We’re always looking for someone interesting who will contribute to the vibe here. It’s really paradise for the right person. One of the reasons why this little compound is so sweet is because Chiyoko’s business plan for being a landlord is to make the tenants as happy as humanly possible.”
Everyone, including Alan who is a screenwriter, does not have a 9 to 5 job. They all freelance in creative fields adding to the special artistic atmosphere.
Chiyoko finds the sounds of bamboo rustling in the wind and water flowing through a fountain calming. Right now, there are seven different types of bamboo in the garden. She and Alan find a place to put them after a species catches their eye. Half a dozen fountains that Chiyoko has made are scattered around.
Interspersed among the plants in soil and pots are fruit trees — peach, apple, loquat, fig, lemon, blood orange, mango, persimmon and avocado. The garden accessories do not contain any plastic materials.
Everything is donated, made or found in streets, alleys, yard sales and flea markets. A planter now used as a fire pit is from a yard sale of Venice Garden & Home Tour co-founder Griffith. Their dogs, Hope and Lucy, and cats, Rasheed and Bella, roam around freely with chickens Lily and Lala.
Hanging on exterior walls are mirrors that Chiyoko has framed by hand in inventive ways and she is currently working on a new one. Alan says the project exemplifies her passion and contribution of aesthetic sensibilities to their environment.
Forming the words, bead by bead, are, “May peace love harmony abundance joy happiness hope forgiveness and tolerance prevail on earth. War is over.” So far, working up to six hours almost every day, it has taken a week to spell out the words and five inches of the background.
“She is hoping to actually influence the energy of the universe,” says Alan. “She thinks she is a normal person, but she is really extraordinary to take on a project like this.”
Alan and Chiyoko look forward to going on the garden tour in their Oakwood neighborhood. As with his own property, he calls Venice a community often shuttered behind walls.
“We thought we knew the people on our street because we walk our dogs,” he says. “But, it turns out that there are people on the garden tour that we are going to meet for the first time after wondering, longing to know what is behind their walls.”
The self-guided tour starts at the Las Doradas Children’s Center, 804 Broadway, at Broadway and Pleasant View, at 10 a.m. and continues until 5 p.m. Shuttle buses will be available and biking is suggested as an option.
Tickets are $60 if purchased in advance or $70 if purchased the day of the tour. Children under 12 years of age are admitted free.