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The Village Green

Planters of perennials and flats of annuals help tame the concrete jungle.

Over the last five years, trees, parkways and front yards have disappeared on Moorpark Avenue to make way for high-density condos.  A few blocks away, on Riverside just east of Laurel Canyon, the giant nursery dedicated to living green things was razed to make room for a hundreds of new apartments that blot out the sun as they near completion.

Driving down Vineland to Victory Boulevard, the message is unmistakable: we are victorious against trees.  And as drivers wend their way down Ventura Boulevard, car repair lots, clothes stores, offices and restaurants crowd out leafy green organic life along the narrow, pedestrian-unfriendly sidewalks.

A study released by the University of California Transportation Center found that “A successful sidewalk is more than just a route for getting from Point A to Point B; it is also a place to abide, to meet others, and to participate in neighborhood life. A place where green spaces...provide psychological benefits.”
 
Taking a cue from block beautification projects in cities like Manhattan and San Francisco, the installed boulevard medians and planted trees along certain stretches of Ventura.  The group also landscaped the branch Library.

But guerilla gardeners also beautify otherwise barren commercial strips by planting flowers, succulents and trees just because they can’t help themselves.

On Ventura, Peets Coffee bundles its outdoor railings in snapdragons; restaurant Raphael presents a wall pocket filled with mini succulents; Out Takes Cafe frames its doorway with aster and dianthus populated planters.

In Tujunga Village, a grassroots streetscape of personal ingenuity has enlivened the already robust shopping district. Wine barrels serve as ad hoc home to red geraniums, a plot of soil is filled with a multi-color flower garden; trees are surrounded by lobelia; storefronts sport planters with everything from iceberg roses to succulents. The foliage makes for an inviting, relaxing destination experience for residents and tourists alike.

Tujunga Avenue’s star attraction: the small plot in front of Jose Neira Salon currently featuring velvety midnight blue lobelia, green gray dusty miller, patches of perky tiny Santa Barbara daisies and a trumpet blast of golden yellow rudbeckia.  A visitor from Vermont marvels at its success, while a resident wonders how she can get similar results. The answer falls to Mike Doyle, who created the salon garden as well as six other businesses’ plantings on Tujunga. Doyle modestly credits the shopkeepers. “They were looking for ways to beautify the street,” he says. “I tailor the design to each property owner so the pedestrian identifies the flowers and plants with the place of business.”

A village green can be created as “quaint or grandiose,” says Doyle, who started his own landscaping business in Sherman Oaks after 25 years as Bakersfield’s Superintendent of Parks. “The greening of streets is a recreational opportunity and an aesthetic opportunity to enhance the quality of the community.”

It’s a decidedly un-tech endeavor. No texting, no cell phones, no GPS. Just walk by and take it all in.

WHAT TO DO:

Encourage shopkeepers and resident associations to pretty up the place.

Do not trample the new plantings at street level.

Attend council meetings to see if there are funds available for green-deprived commercial  strips.

STEAL THIS IDEA:

A large resin planter can be themed: cottage garden flowers; succulents; perennials in the same color family; trailing plants in mixed colors.

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