Small Gardens of Venice

By: Tara Feld – Landscape Designer
Contributor’s website: Tara Feld Design

When you think of Venice Beach, California what comes to mind? Men pumping iron at Muscle Beach, the scenic Venice canals, Dogtown skateboarder’s, Gold’s Gym members milling around, or leisurely taking in some sun while cruising along on the Bike Path? Perhaps it is the aroma of gilled hot dogs and pizza by the slice that takes you back to the beach. As a Santa Monica native, I grew up going to Venice Beach every weekend with my family. My memories of bikini girls on rollers skates winding in-and-out of crowds of tourists and street performers juggling chain saws fascinated me. The ever alluring cheap sunglass huts and stores selling metallic silver MC Hammer pants for 50% off tantalized locals and tourists alike with fun $5 dollar deals. The shops overflowed with cheesy silk-screened t-shirts reading “Venice Beach Life Guard on Duty” displayed next to ” Venice Beach – Where Art Meets Crime”. 

Eventually the seaside novelty wears off and Venice residents agree that their passion shifted from the sand, sea, and sun beach fantasy to enjoying the everyday pleasure of tending to their small gardens. I recently house/garden/cat sat for a friend who lives on the walk streets of Venice, just steps away from the beach. While residing there I interacted with many neighbors during my walks and admiring gardens. Locals shared gardening tips and casually discussed composting facts. One local who was turning over the soil in his garden with a shovel, chatted with me proudly about his new selection of sunflower, sweet corn, pumpkin, gourd squash and wild flowers seeds he was planting. Many residents in the community have an abundance of Meyer lemon, orange, apple, peach, apricot, and plum trees which they harvest and kindly share with their neighbors. 
The stimulating Venice gardening conversations spanned from how much sunshine was desired this summer to grow a perfect tomato to make the best salsa to how chicken fertilizer was the key to their garden’s success. One topic that came up again and again is how much local residents loved walking through and enjoying the local MONARCH WAYSTATION garden and the VENICE BEACH PUBLIC ACCESS – California native garden. During my short time in Venice, I took the locals advise and made a point to walk everyday to these two sites to observe and learn more about California Native plants, and see beautiful monarch butterflies in their natural habitat.
The first must see garden is the MONARCH WAYSTATION located on Pacific Ave adjacent to 29th Ave. This public access garden walkway links Pacific Ave to Strongs Drive. Wooden stairs divide an array of vibrant blooming flowers on either side. Delicate lemon yellow poppies are nested in shocking orange milkweed (butterfly weed). Pink, white and purple flowers crest upwards like paint brushes, blending and softening the landscape. 
The air is perfumed with French lavender, Purple Sage shrub and my favorite Mexican Marigold. Pale purple Sea Daisies blanket the ground, dotted with their sunshine yellow centers. Golden toned California poppy mischievously hug the pathway and weave themselves in-and-out of the terraced garden beds as if they have the run of the place.  Red and blue salvia are growing in abundance. The red and orange milkweed are the main source of food for the monarch butterflies and clearly dominate the garden, the lush bushes protect numerous small wooden structures created and installed to give shelter the monarch cocoons. Milling around the garden many Monarch butterflies are present displaying their bright orange and black wings fluttering and visible against the blue sky, and later camouflaging themselves brilliantly on the red-orange flowers of the milkweed plants. Simply mesmerizing!
The mission of the MONARCH WAYSTATION is to Create, Conserve, & Protect Monarch Habitats. As posted in the garden “This site provides milkweeds, nectar sources, and shelter needed to sustain monarch butterflies as they migrate through North America. Certified and registered by Monarch Watch as an official Monarch Waystation.
You learn more about Monarch Watch at, from the University of Kansas, Entomology program. 
The second garden destination to explore is the VENICE BEACH PUBLIC ACCESS GARDEN created and funded by the City of Los Angeles, Costal Conservancy, Venice Canals Foundation. Located on Pacific and 25th Ave this California Native Garden is modern. The pathway is incredible as it is made of recycled rubber.  The path was designed to switch back and forth from side-to side creating a dramatic curve and loop pattern through out the landscape. 
I am a huge fan of utilizing California native plant for public sites. The drought tolerant plant selections for this project are so well informed and beautifully installed in large lush modern clusters. The left side of the garden is planted with a dense stripe of dark blue flowering, Ceanothus ‘Concha’ California Lilac.  The small trumpet shaped flowers of thepurple-blue Penstemon heterophyllus ‘ Blue Springs”  are flourishing here. The Hot Pink blooming Humming Bird Sage provides a great nectar supply for hummingbirds and butterflies. If you want to see for yourself the sunflower-yellow blooms of Giant Coropsis- Sea Dahlia, or smell the aromatic California White Sage Shrub (as mentioned in my April blogs) this wonderful local garden habitat to observe them both. 
Needless to say the intense beauty and diversity of the small gardens in Venice Beach are simply incredible. The walk streets of Venice are overflowing with purple and orange trumpet vines, sprawling up and downward, disguising homes with lush green foliage. The Venice canal gardens styles range from high-end modern landscape design, to a garden filled wall-to-wall with pink-flamingos topped with more pink flamingos. 
The Venice cottages gardens around the canals are super darling and worth seeing. For example I encountered a classic white picket-fenced in cottage garden. The fence was totally absorbed by billowing bushes of green foliage topped with a bounty of red-and-white speckled roses. The sidewalk was lined with delicate dusting of rose petals.  This variety of speckled rose makes me smile, as it reminds me of the Queens of Hearts (painted) rose garden in Alice in Wonderland story. 
Adjacent to this lush water loving rose and green grass classic landscaping was a dry drought tolerant garden showcasing thriving tall red grevillea, wild shrubs of flowering purple-and-white Mexican sage, and an enormous yellow pin-cushion protea bush. Both the container gardened patios and small gardens alike are beaming with wild life. You will be greeted by humming birds, butterflies, cats, dogs and of course ducks.
Relax on a small bridge overlooking the canals, and enjoy watching the ducks swim by.  Experience a delightful change of scenery and visit the small gardens of Venice, they are off the beaten path and a refreshing change from pace from the tourist riddled beaches this summer.
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Contributor’s website: Tara Feld Design 

Images: All images by TARA FELD DESIGN; Small Venice Garden with Park Bench, Monarch Waystation, Mexican Merigold/ Purple Sage Shrub/ Milkweed (Butterfly Weed)/ Monarch Shelter, Venice Public Beach Access – CA Native Garden, Giant Coreopis/ Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Blue Springs’ / Ceanothus ‘Concha” Claifornia Lilac / Humming Bird Sage,  Red and White Specked Tea Roses. Images and Photography is Copyright TARA FELD 2011.
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