Mar Vista showcase celebrates eco-friendly choices that beautify neighborhoods

By Gary Walker

The “pond-less waterfall” in Linda Levine’s backyard garden re-circulates and filters water to prevent waste

The “pond-less waterfall” in Linda Levine’s backyard garden re-circulates and filters water to prevent waste

The steeply sloping front yard of Mar Vista attorney Les Hairrel’s Granville Avenue home is a dozen shades of green accentuated by stop-sign red flowers bursting through it.

Just three years ago it was all just plain grass, which required frequent watering and maintenance to survive in the sandy soil below.

Now Hairrel — who planted the garden’s nearly 30 varieties of succulents himself — hardly has to water it, relying primarily on a drip irrigation system.

His home is one of 39 that will be on display at the sixth annual Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase, a local Earth Day tradition that offers Westsiders a glimpse of just how many homeowners have made water conservation and energy efficiency staples of everyday life.

This year’s self-guided tour program, which takes place April 26 and also features six public school learning gardens, is a streamlined version compared to last year’s schedule of 98 homes.

In keeping with the sustainability theme, destination homes are divided into walkable clusters. This year’s showcase also features a bike valet at the Venice High School Learning Garden.

Organizers said they chose to emphasize some of the best and newest examples of popular conservationist themes, including techniques to collect rainwater and prevent storm water runoff as well as solar panels and eco-conscious landscaping.

“Particularly with the drought, the tour focuses on things that can really conserve water, like eliminating grass from your yard,” said event co-chair Christy Wilhelmi. “We tried to include some new gardens as well as some well-established gardens. We really wanted to cover all the bases … [and] keep the same diversity that there’s been in the past.”

This is the first time Hairrel’s home is part of the tour, but he’s walked the showcase in previous years.

Walking the tour, he said, “gives you a lot of good ideas for your own home.”

Linda Levine, a professional garden designer, who uses her home garden to experiment with new landscape concepts. Levin’s back yard features a “pond-less waterfall,” which re-circulates and filters water to prevent waste, that is nestled among a grove of Japanese persimmon, orange and loquat trees.

“I’m always experimenting with different things. I take out what isn’t working for me and put in things that make it work better,” said Levine, whose home was also featured in the showcase in 2012. “It’s a lot more riotous than other people’s gardens.”

This year, both her front and back lawns have more color and “there are also a lot more drought-tolerant plants,” she said.

Homeowners going green isn’t limited to Mar Vista.

Venice filmmaker Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the first film of the “Twilight” franchise, has been using a compost bin to fertilize her vegetable and fruit tree garden, interspersed with decorative drought-tolerant plants.

Hardwicke also had Eco-Lawn installed at her Dudley Avenue home instead of real grass. Eco-Lawn is a blend of several different types of grass that requires minimal care.

“I was raised to be very conscience about water conservation,” Hardwicke said. “All of my appliances are also water-saving.”

Hardwicke’s home will be featured as part of the Venice Home & Garden Tour on May 3.

The Mar Vista Green Garden showcase features an educational component that includes information about financial assistance for eco-friendly home renovations and guest presenters demonstrating best practices.

Tree People, a nonprofit that assists with tree planting efforts, will unveil a new rainwater harvesting component in its efforts to map L.A.’s urban forest, said Lisa Cahill, senior manager of sustainable solutions at Tree People.

Due in large part to the statewide drought, many Westsiders are restructuring their gardens, Levine said, with many installing water-capture features and creating edible gardens.  Levine said her clients are asking for what she calls more “minimalist” gardens — a focus on less vegetation.

“A lot of people want their front lawns completely taken out because it is less expensive when you don’t have to water it,” Levine said.

In Santa Monica, 153 homeowners have received city rebates for installing 381 rain barrels or cisterns at their homes to redirect rainwater into their gardens, said city sustainability analyst Kim O’Cain. Santa Monica homeowners can earn rebates of between $200 and $2,000, depending on the capacity of the water-capture system.

The Santa Monica Main Library on Sixth Street has a 200,000 gallon cistern below it, and city ordinances require that all new developments utilize capture systems that can hold at least three quarters of the rainwater that falls on a property.

Jim Carroll and Sarah Auerswald, whose Keeshen Drive home is part of this year’s Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase, were among many Westside homeowners who installed a rain barrel five years ago during a Los Angeles rainwater harvesting initiative. The program provided free assistance to homeowners and businesses who wanted to capture rainwater and use it for irrigation purposes.

The popularity of the Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase has grown exponentially since its founding in 2009, requiring organizers to begin identifying homeowners, organizing tour maps and reaching out to environmental organizations up to 10 months in advance.

The Mar Vista Community Council’s Green Committee takes the lead in organizing the tour and its original co-chairs, Sherri Akers and Jeanne Kuntz, were its principal organizers.  Melissa Stoller replaced Akers last year on the committee and over the last few years the three have largely been responsible for the entire event.

Stoller, Akers and Kuntz told the committee last year that they would no longer be able to organizing and run the tour, prompting Wilhelmi — author of the book “Gardening for Geeks” — to help with this year’s showcase.

Wilhelmi, who has used QR codes to add an audio component to the tour, said the effort has been exhilarating.

“The whole point of the tour is to get the message out about how we can make our lives more sustainable,” she said. “We’ve found that dual layer of education and visual components that we think really make a difference.”

The Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase is a free event and starts at 10 a.m. at Grand View Boulevard Elementary School in 3951 Grand View Blvd. For more information, visit