Westchester Mental Health Guild Garden Tour shifts its focus to the drought

By Michael Aushenker

Nancy Edwards replanted her Playa del Rey garden in response to the drought

Nancy Edwards replanted her Playa del Rey garden in response to the drought

After 13 years of traditional landscaping, Westchester Mental Health Guild board member Nancy Edwards had a decision to make about her Playa del Rey garden.

“I still have a pond, but we emptied it,” she said. “We planted agave plants, which don’t need a lot of water. I took out all of our flowering plants, putting in succulents. The garden looks beautiful —it’s just a different look.”

The drought impacts everyone — even the popular biennial Westchester Mental Health Guild Garden Tour.

On Sunday, the tour showcases eight Westchester and Playa del Rey gardens that, for the first time in the event’s history, are meant to inspire and encourage locals to embrace water-saving landscapes.

“The gardens this year are different than what we’ve seen previously,” said Candace Yip, a member of the guild’s board. “The water situation is really something everyone should be aware of and take to heart.”

As always, proceeds of the tour benefit the Airport Marina Counseling Service, which provides affordable mental health care services for low-income individuals and trains pre-licensed therapists.

Westchester’s Emerson Avenue Community Garden is also open for the tour, and the guild’s The Guilded Cage Boutique offers plants and gifts for sale as well as complimentary refreshments.

Edwards’ new garden is among the eight residential ones featured on the tour.

But she’s not the only Playa del Rey resident rethinking her landscaping.

“A neighbor down the hill just took out his front lawn. My next-door neighbor is doing artificial turf. A lot of our neighbors are jumping on the bandwagon,” Edwards said.

Yip, a Westchester resident, is also seeing her neighbors take action.

“They have torn up their landscapes and planted for lower water usage, showing how beautiful a garden can be with less grass,” Yip said. “A lot of people think of succulents as not having flowers. A lot of these have flowers.”

Two years ago, former guild President Barbara Clark and husband Stan Clark decided on a new approach to caring for their 4,000-square-foot front yard in Westchester.

“We have a corner lot, which means we have a lot of grass. Over the years the grass got browner and browner,” said Stan Clark.

The Clarks took advantage of a city turf-removal program and finished overhauling their garden last December, introducing desert flowers, succulents, a pair of Norwegian star plants and other drought-tolerant vegetation. Their garden is also on Sunday’s tour.

“I am completely satisfied with the garden,” said Clark, who now wants to re-do the backyard.

Of course, there are many inexpensive ways to achieve this, including scattering plants among poured gravel.

“We have a neighbor who did it even more cheaply:  he stopped watering it. His lawn went brown,” Clark said.

The garden tour is from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Get tickets ($25) and a map at The Guilded Cage gift shop, 8917-B S. Sepulveda Blvd., Westchester. Call (310) 641-7850 or visit facebook.com/westchestermentalhealthguild