If water conservation, green living, learning about native plants and meeting neighbors for perhaps the first time is your idea of fun, then a group of Mar Vista residents has just the thing for a spring weekend.

Back for an encore performance, the Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase will take those who participate on a journey of sustainable living through Mar Vista, which is rapidly becoming a hot spot for environmental and conservation events. A visual guide of the showcase is at


Now in its second year, the tour of eco-friendly lawn and gardens will take place Sunday, April 25th, and it has rapidly mushroomed into a popular community activity where innovative conservation efforts are displayed, as well as a way to forge new ties with other Mar Vista residents.

“It’s really created a community for so many of us, instead of just living next to each other,” said Jeanne Kuntz, who lives on Cabrillo Boulevard in Mar Vista and is one of this year’s organizers. “I love the way that it makes me feel like I’m a part of a real community.”

Sherri Akers, the co-chair of the Mar Vista Community Council’s Green Committee and another of this year’s showcase organizers, echoed Kuntz’s feeling about how the garden tours have brought Mar Vista residents closer.

“The group of garden participants meet a week before the showcase, and you get to meet so many people with common interests and that is so wonderful,” she said. “It becomes sort of like a club.”

The 2010 tour will feature 80 gardens, almost double the total of last year’s 44, a source of pride with Akers, a green living consultant.

“People have told us that they were inspired by last year’s tour and wanted to be part of it this year,” she said.

Craig and Jasmine Jaffe’s home will be on the tour this year. The couple, who has three young children, recently remodeled their Keeshan Drive home and decided to reconfigure their front lawn to make it more environmentally sustainable.

“Our goal was to conserve water, and Jasmine and I both wanted a lush-looking lawn,” explained Craig Jaffe. “We were looking into the possibility of putting in artificial grass.”

The Jaffes were informed by a friend, Heather Trilling, a landscape architect, that they could have real grass and conserve water at the same time by using Eco-Lawn, a blend of seven different types of grass that produces a thick, minimal care lawn.

“I love the colors,” said Jasmine Jaffe, standing on her lawn, which is surrounded by a variety of colorful native plants.

Trilling said the transformed garden is a no-maintenance garden.

“There’s no trimming, no pruning… there’s almost nothing for the homeowner to worry about,” she said.

Nancy Hastings is also on the tour, and she has opted to go without grass in her front lawn.

Her home, like the Jaffes’, has also attracted bees and butterflies to the native plants in Hastings’ front yard, which has been certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a wildlife habitat. That, she said with a smile, surprises some who walk past her house.

“I jokingly ask them if they have heard of the wild Mar Vista mongoose,” Hastings, the Southern California field coordinator for the Santa Monica-based Surfrider Foundation, said with a laugh. “They don’t think of bees, butterflies and birds as species that we need to provide habitat for as well.”

Sufrider has a program called Ocean Friendly Gardens, which tries to instill in members of the public that what they do on their property can affect ocean water quality.

Hastings’ Redwood Avenue garden has a mix of native and drought tolerant plants in her front lawn. She began reconfiguring her garden into a more sustainable fashion in 2007 and removed all of the grass, which she says was her only real expense. In place of the grass are a variety of different stepping stones, and she is growing onions and strawberries as well.

“Everything else you see in this yard I did myself,” she said.

Laura Bodensteiner, who recently won reelection to the Mar Vista Community Council, is amazed that the tour has almost twice as many participants as last year.

“It grew so much from last year from people being inspired by the tour, and the fact that our council is supporting this amazing community event, we couldn’t be more thrilled,” said Bodensteiner, who founded the council’s green committee.

She also gave credit to Akers for the success of last year’s garden showcase and her work this year.

“Sherri has been absolutely instrumental in the organization of the garden tour,” Bodensteiner said. “She has encouraged the participants to bring outside guests and been involved in the organization of every garden. I just can’t say enough wonderful things about her.”

Hastings signed up last year for the Los Angeles Rainwater Harvest Program and was given a rain barrel for her home.

“I am now harvesting water from my roof, which reduces the amount that I need for imported water,” she said. “The water is captured on her lawn and does 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 help to improve Santa Monica Bay’s water quality.”

Jasmine Jaffe saw a humming bird in her nectarine tree after she planted fruit trees in the backyard, attesting to the theory that birds and other species will visit gardens or lawns that are environmentally friendly.

“We really enjoy seeing butterflies and the humming birds right here in the yard,” she said. “It’s just like watching nature.”

Hastings has also seen birds return to her yard, as well as a Monarch butterfly.

“To see one in my own yard, I know that I had done the right thing,” she stated.

Craig Jaffe said he received an education about sustainability when Trilling approached him about installing drought tolerant plants.

“I envisioned a yard full of cactus that are sometimes green but would mostly be brown and dull and lifeless, without any vivid colors,” he admitted. “We now a have a very colorful garden, and it’s a joy to be out here.”

That is not an uncommon sentiment among many homeowners who are transitioning to water conserving gardens, said Marilee Kuhlmann, a landscape designer with the Green Garden Group who lives across the street from Hastings.

“I used to do the Santa Monica Green Garden Tour for about five years, and people would come to a garden and say, ‘This is beautiful. It’s not cactus and it’s not rocks,’” she recalled. “It’s really about what it is that makes it sustainable, because it’s not intuitive.

“We’ve been living in an unsustainable way, and until you’re seeing it, you won’t recognize it.”

The Jaffes were nominated to be part of this year’s tour, which brought them great satisfaction.

“To have our garden taking shape after a year and seeing the nomination papers was very exciting,” Craig Jaffe said.

Akers is especially thrilled with the variety of gardens that will be on display this year.

“They are all different in their own way,” the green consultant said. “Those who take the tour will have a wonderful opportunity to see how (Mar Vista) is committed to living a more sustainable way of life.”