By Gary Walker
Five years after the first sustainable garden was shown, the Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase has become a staple of spring on the Westside.
It has become synonymous with Mar Vista, which in turn has become ground zero for a movement of like-minded residents who take the concept of “going green” very seriously and have become inspirations citywide to homeowners, businesses and local government.
Conceived as a walking tour spotlighting drought-resistant landscapes and edible gardens, it has grown in size, scope and importance, drawing thousands of visitors annually, including officeholders and those seeking to win elected office.
The 2013 version is on Earth Day, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 20 and 3635 Grand View Blvd. will once again be “Showcase Central,” a starting point of sorts where visitors can get all the information about the tour that they require.
The 2013 garden party will feature 98 homes, some with edible gardens, and others that have implemented stormwater runoff capture techniques. Also featured are gardens that have installed rain barrels or solar panels, and are growing native plants and fruit trees.
Members of the Mar Vista Community Council’s Green Committee have been at the forefront of organizing and promoting the sustainability showcase since it was started in 2009 by Sherri Akers, a former committee co-chair.
This year, Melissa Stoller and Jeanne Kuntz, 2013’s Green Committee leaders, are at the reigns.
“I showed my garden in the first Green Garden Showcase and had a great time,” explained Stoller when asked what inspired her to get involved with the garden showcase. “I had lots of visitors and got lots of compliments.
“Although I was less knowledgeable and less ‘green’ at that time, I had removed my grass in 2001 and hoped to encourage others to do so,” she added. “I think I started recruiting gardens in 2010. At first, I wanted more gardens in my area. Over time, I became more invested in the success of the entire showcase.”
As in prior years, special guest presenters will be a part of the festivities. A group of arborists will make presentations and there will also be native plant demonstrations.
Stoller said this year the residences that drew her attention for the tour were ones that had an inspirational component to them.
“Just having no grass is not enough. I want gardens that will motivate others to ‘go green,’” she said. “Gardens don’t need to be perfect but they should look somewhat cared for. If the sprinklers are on when I walk by and are spraying onto the sidewalk or into the street, I keep walking. A small amount of grass may be okay depending on the rest of the landscaping, but I prefer that it not be on the parkway because of (water) runoff.
“I don’t care what style the garden is, but there should be some design. The design can look very much DIY (Do It Yourself) – not everyone has the money to hire a landscape architect and the goal is to encourage more people to replace their turf with a sustainable garden,” Stoller continued.
“Seeing an owner out there working in the garden is a definite plus; so is an architecturally interesting house.”
Stoller said some other features that she looks for in a home are provisions for capturing hardscape runoff, front yard edibles and bioswales.
Tom Rau’s Palms Boulevard home is on the tour this year. His is an “Ocean Friendly Garden” as certified by the Surfrider Foundation for its water retention features. Rau, a landscape architect, follows the CPR concept in his garden –conservation, permeability and retention.
“When we talk about conservation, we’re talking about no use of any kind of mechanical equipment; no mowers, no blowers, no weedwackers, no hedge trimmers and no pesticides,” he said. “It’s all about building healthy soil and using climate-appropriate and California native plants.”
Another addition to this year’s event will be a “Feathers and Foliage of Mar Vista,” a nature walk that will be led by conservation biologist Robert “Roy” van de Hoek of the Playa del Rey-based Ballona Institute.
“Trees provide a valuable service in terms of supporting soil to capture water,” Kuntz explained. “They are also home for birds and they create a wonderful habitat for all of the little creatures that support the ecosystem.”
Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Mar Vista, will be one elected official at the showcase. Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell (D-Mar Vista) has been invited as well as City Controller Wendy Greuel, who is engaged in an acrimonious battle with City Councilman Eric Garcetti for mayor. Last year, mayoral candidate Austin Beutner made an appearance.
“Mar Vista’s green community continues to blow me away with their passion and determination,” Rosendahl said. “I’ve been fortunate to witness the event from the start, and I’m so proud of my constituents and their selfless efforts to empower others with knowledge and the feeling that we can all make a difference in this world.”
Another new feature on this year’s tour is called “Gardens in Transition,” which are gardens that are in the process of becoming sustainable.
“We are thrilled to have a church – St. Andrew’s – on the tour for the first time. It is even more special because it was an Eagle Scout project,” Stoller said.
Louis King is a five-timer on the garden showcase tour. His backyard is a collection of fruit trees and art that he has collected over more than three decades. Some of the plants in his garden have a historical attachment to them.
“I took many of them from the area where they were building the 405,” King said, gesturing toward the nearby freeway that was built in the 1960s.
His Mountain View Avenue home also has a water capture retention system where stormwater runs off his roof into an old-fashioned bathtub. “I use it to water my garden and the plants,” he said.
Stoller was duly impressed when she visited King’s colorful garden.
“Last year I saw the backyard for the first time and I was blown away. It is such a personal expression and there is so much to look at,” she said. “Each time you go there, you discover something you hadn’t noticed before. I love the quirkiness and inventiveness of his rain water capture system.”
While Kuntz and Stoller are the showcase’s mainstays this year, Stoller says Akers’ influence is still felt.
“Sherri still is a driving force, helping to keep us on track,” she said. “Sherri’s input is invaluable and she continues to be our primary publicity person.”
Maps for the showcase and the list of homes on this year’s tour can be found at www.marvistagreengardenshowcase.blogspot.com.