(Editor's Note: I worked with Marla Hart years ago and I was delighted to find that she and her fine journalist husband Hugh have moved to Studio City. I'm glad to be working with them again. Marla will be on the lookout for fascinating local gardens in our midst. She'll tell you how they grow, and we will meet the people behind them. If you have any suggestions for her to take a look at, leave them in the COMMENTS area below.)
Tracy and Kieran’s street-side garden in Tujunga Village, bursting in April with poppies, borage, nasturtium and sweet pea, is a mash-up of design and serendipity.
When the couple bought their one-story house at Tujunga Avenue and Valley Spring Lane 15 years ago it had no garden, a few trees, lots of dirt and a southeast exposure. Now, with their son Collin, 14, three dogs and hens, they’re the caretakers of a year-round garden with blooms enough to serve as the local diner for butterflies, bees, finches and eco-heads (we’ll get to that).
Tell Tracy, a teacher at Sun Valley Middle School, that you love her garden and she’s self-deprecating: “It’s mostly Mother Nature, I’m telling you.”
Compliment Kieran, who installs solar panels and rigs cars to run on vegetable oil, and he says, “I’ll take credit for it,” which makes Tracy laugh and say, “that sounds like him.”
The garden’s centerpiece is an apricot tree flanked in April by mounds of nasturtium, California poppies, Icelandic poppies, hummingbird sage (Tracy’s favorite), borage, sweet pea, cranesbill geranium, African coreopsis. Pentsemon are poking their heads out. Wild strawberries nudge over the sides of pots.
Quirky personal embellishments include a multi-lingual peace signpost, bee houses, an antique headboard, grapevines that sport syrah and Delaware fruit, birdbaths, ceramic cows, whirlygigs, a windmill, a child's old wooden chair.
Even the Mercedes Benz parked in the driveway is part of the narrative—it runs on veggie oil Kieran is licensed to haul from local restaurants like Sushi 101.
Paige, a visitor, calls it a “hippie garden.” Their next-door neighbor Sam, who paints on canvas, calls it “primitive.” Neighbors to the east (who have since sold their house) weren’t so thrilled.
“They planted hedges so they didn’t have to look at it,” Tracy laughs. “They called it an eyesore.”
To a cottage gardener, it’s a master work of intuition.
“When I started out the garden was going to be kind of like an English cottage garden,” Tracy explains. “My thoughts were cutesy, you know, the typical. And then i realized that took a lot more water than I wanted to do, with the drought thing going on, so I decided to go native. But I just couldn’t see taking everything out so it’s kind of it’s a mish-mosh.”
Drought-resistant favorites include lavender, sages and poppies. Stroking the bushes of scented geranium, Tracy muses, “I couldn’t resist trying sweet peas even though they take over everything. A lot of stuff I plant just for the bees and butterflies.”
The garden changes with the seasons, sometimes by design and sometimes by accident. Birds carry seeds to new places, Tracy chuckles and “the plants themselves move positions. They kind of decide where they want to go.”
Still it it helps to have resources. Tracy buys seeds from Renee’s Gardens and Sego Nursery. “Those guys are so nice, very helpful.”
Her advice is to follow at least a few basics then hope for the best: “I do always buy plants in threes; I like to leave water in little saucers on the ground for butterflies; I put up feeders for the birds; I pull up weeds.”
White moths fly about, a bee with packs of orange pollen hovers, a ladybug sits on a lily leaf. Soon the buddleia will open and the black swallowtails and yellow finch will arrive.
Standing under the peace sign on the roof that lights up every Christmas, Tracy says, “There’s alot in this garden that I didn’t plant. But I love it. I’m happy.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Plant citrus trees and perennial flowers.
Check with local garden centers for exposures.
Divide and transplant.
If you start plants from seeds, cover with thin layer of compost or soil (not manure) and protect with plastic water bottle or wax carton.
Feed your roses, and water deeply.
Weed when soil is dry so you can pull the darn thing up whole.
STEAL THIS IDEA:
Use an old bike put a basket on its handlebars and put a potted flowering plant in the basket. Very French!