Sunday, April 21, 2013

Another Kind of Garden Tour

Last week I participated in a tour of 3 gardens located on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, which I wrote about here.  All of those gardens were large, created with the assistance of landscaping professionals, and 2 of the 3 required the ongoing support of professionals to maintain.

On Saturday, April 20th, a friend and I toured gardens of a very different type in the community of Mar Vista, located on the west side of Los Angeles.  Modest, bungalow styles houses dating back to the 1920s-1940s are still common there, although the area has been undergoing gentrification for some time and angular modern style homes now sit side by side with the older bungalow homes on many streets.

Mar Vista has sponsored sustainable, California-friendly landscaping for several years, using its annual Green Garden Showcase to promote interest within the local community.  This year's showcase featured 98 gardens open to the public.  My friend and I, although ambitious, had no illusions about trying to see all of these.  Last year, we toured about 6.  This year, we set our goal at 12.

Touring 12 gardens in a single day is easier than you might expect.  Many, if not most, of the gardens show only their front yards and, many times, featured gardens were on the same street.  The vast majority of homeowners participating in the showcase have removed their lawns, although this year I saw more artificial grass than last year.  The use of succulents and other drought tolerant plants is also common, as shown below.

Front entry, bordered by palms, banana trees and succulents

These plants were placed along the hell-strip bordering the street, effectively blocking it from view

The plants in this garden were all healthy and obviously robust but I'm afraid the garden itself made me feel claustrophobic.  I had a similar reaction to the second garden we visited.  Although the large agaves were impressive, they also felt a bit intimidating placed close to the entry way and along the public walkway.

The garden shown above and the next one, located across the street, were designed by the same person and used similar plants; however, I liked the one pictured below better.  It had a more open feel.

Do you think the 2 large agaves on the parkway were added with the intention of discouraging people from parking in front of the home?

The homeowner at the next garden told us that she had put her front garden together entirely from cuttings from a few plants.  In talking to her, we also learned that she had attended the same high school we had in the San Fernando Valley so we enjoyed a brief trip down memory lane.

The next homeowner we spoke to was very into feng-shui and her garden was constructed in support of those principles.  She and her husband also raise chickens.  I asked if that bothered her neighbors at all.  She told me that a lot of the neighbors in the surrounding blocks have chickens and no one complains.  There's a general "no roosters" rule.  I asked if the chickens had names and she said they're called Original, Extra Crispy and Nugget.

Newly planted front yard with Swiss chard reportedly added to remove impurities in the soil (but not to be eaten)

Raised vegetable planters in a sunny section of the front yard

I believe this is either Original or Extra Crispy - Nugget was in a corner laying an egg

The homeowner at the next site was unavailable but her friend, who turned out to be the horticulturist on HGTV's "Outdoor Room" show, showed us around.  This garden uses a gray water system.  I wasn't thrilled with the front but I liked the lounge area in the back.

The wood canopy over the lounge area was entirely covered by Bignonia capreolata

The next garden, with ponds and waterfalls in both the front yard and the back, was essentially an advertisement for the owner's pond installation business.  There was a lot of greenery but the plants were placed in a hodge-podge fashion (and there were fake orchids placed throughout).

Front yard looking down downward the street

Koi pond in back

The next 2 gardens were designed by the same landscaper and, like the matched pair we'd seen earlier in the day, these also utilized a lot of the same plants.  The front yards in these 2 gardens were deeper than many of those we saw on the tour, which made them feel more open.

1st garden, viewed from sidewalk

1st garden, viewed from the house looking back toward the street

2nd garden, viewed from sidewalk

2nd garden, viewed from side path

Those are all the pictures I took of the gardens we visited on the official tour.  (We just drove by a few.)  Frankly, by comparison to last year's tour, I was disappointed.  Perhaps my friend and I just made poor selections from the list of 98 featured gardens but I didn't come away with a lot of ideas about plant combinations and design ideas to try as I did last year.  Actually, I thought some of the houses we passed that weren't on the tour had more attractive front gardens.  Most of those that attracted my attention used simpler plant palettes.

This appeared to be a bungalow house fronted with modern fencing.  The ornamental grasses were placed in the hell-strip.

I liked the repetition of colors and plants here

I didn't particularly like this house but I did like the simple fence, the front hedge of Pittosporum tenuifolium and the no-mow grass

This was probably my favorite front yard - the relatively simple plant selections complemented the Spanish style house without overwhelming it
I probably need to give some thought to what I liked and didn't like in the gardens depicted above and apply those lessons to my own front yard!  I tend to crowd a wide variety of different plants together without giving as much thought as I should to the overall picture.


  1. Original, Crispy, and Nugget!!!! hahaha Too cute! I also didn't know that Swiss Chard would remove impurities! Good to know. I am a little surprised that they would have artificial grass and fake flowers on a garden tour! But, I think that you are on the right track with the 12 tours - breaking them down to see what you like, and what you didn't, then putting that to use in your own garden.

    1. The owner of Original, Extra Crispy and Nugget implied that the names were created to keep their ultimate fates in mind but I don't think even that reminder would allow me to cook them up for dinner when their egg-laying years are over. I wonder if there are retirement homes for chickens...