On May 5, the 19th Annual Venice Garden & Home Tour will highlight the serene residential neighborhood east of Lincoln Boulevard, a contrast to the bustling beachside.
The lots, some in excess of 10,000 square feet, once home to farming fields are perfect for gardening. Such is the property owned by Milton Wolpin.
What was a yard of crab grass and a few trees has, over the past 10 years, been transformed into an 80 percent edible garden with more than 40 fruit trees, fruiting vines, and several vegetable beds. Wolpin’s partner, Marlena Ross, a 1995 graduate of the Los Angeles County Master Gardener Training Program, has developed the garden section by section. She estimates an average of 15 hours per week is needed to keep the plants thriving.
Most of the new gardens in Venice are in carefully orchestrated settings. Ross’ garden developed without an overall plan and it’s been a work in progress. Found and reused materials are seen throughout the garden.
It’s easy to meander on bricks and pavers that wind past flowers, vegetables, and fruit trees to seating areas with double swings, picnic tables and chairs. Strawberry beds are made from wood scraps. Whimsical elements are interspersed – black and colored bowling balls, wind chimes, rocks, bird houses, bird baths and lots of animal figurines – rabbits, pigs, frogs, bears and ducks. Many years ago, two rocks were brought in by a forklift. At the time they looked large but are now dwarfed by the surrounding plantings.
There is also a butterfly section. “Butterflies come everywhere but this area has plants that specifically attract them,” says Ross.
Among the fruit trees and vines are some fruits not readily found at farmers markets such as mulberries, guavas, cherimoyas, passion fruit and cherry of the Rio Grande. There are even dandelions.
“A lot of people pull up dandelions,” Ross says. “I purposely grow them to eat the greens.”
The garden is a delight for anyone who wants to eat healthy with kale, celery, blueberries, potatoes, strawberries and banana plants to name just a few. Grape plants drape over two arbors. Wolpin and Ross are vegans and so much of their food comes from the garden.
Last year Ross attended classes at the Green Garden Academy, a Santa Monica city-sponsored free program that focuses on sustainable gardening. She also is a member of the West Los Angeles chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers, considered the largest amateur fruit-growing organization in the world that focuses on species not commercially available. Members often donate a variety of seedlings from their gardens to share with others. From those plant sales, Ross procured plants such as babaco papaya, pepino dulce and dragon fruit.
This garden is a place of refuge for neighborhood cats, squirrels and birds, as well as humans, and is certified by the National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Habitat Program.
“With our hospitable climate and the variety of edible plants available, there’s always something to harvest in the garden and it’s exciting to share seeds and cuttings and to introduce people to produce they might not have tasted before,” says Ross. “Gardening also provides a link to others who don’t mind having dirt under their fingernails and are interested in protecting and improving our environment.”
Ross is looking forward to this year’s tour. She remembers when the garden was on the last east of Lincoln Boulevard tour four years ago.
“All of a sudden there were hundreds of people here, walking through the garden, sitting and eating their lunch, and asking questions,” she says. “It felt wonderful to see the garden being enjoyed. I rarely sit down and relax in it. I am always pruning or planting something.”
In addition to captivating gardens and homes of architectural interest hidden from view and created by architects, designers and green thumb enthusiasts like Ross, this year’s Venice Garden & Home Tour will also take tour-goers into the architecturally significant Gregory Ain tract, a “Utopian” enclave of 52 modest one-story homes from 1947 tucked into Mar Vista. Landscape architect Garrett Eckbo planted rows of trees to create a streetscape that unifies the neighborhood and gives it a park-like atmosphere.
Proceeds from the tour benefit the Neighborhood Youth Association’s Las Doradas Children’s Center in the Oakwood neighborhood, a licensed facility that provides full-time, education-based childcare to low-income families. In operation since 1991, the center offers children an opportunity for the care and additional guidance that prepares them to be effective learners, ready and eager to enter and excel in school, and to instill in them the values to become productive community members in the future.
The self-guided tour starts at the Las Doradas Children’s Center, 804 Broadway, the corner of 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. For tickets and information, www.venicegardentour.org.