Backyards could become community gardens in Santa Monica

Susan McCorry, framed by her watsonia plant, works her public garden plot. She is a member of Santa Monica's Community Garden Advisory Committee.
Susan McCorry, framed by her watsonia plant, works her public garden plot. She is a member of Santa Monica‘s Community Garden Advisory Committee.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

When Tim Bowler and his wife signed up to become part of the Main Street community garden in Santa Monica, they were eager to get their hands dirty and grow their own vegetables.

It took them eight years to get a plot.

Lynn Weston waited a decade. Christine Corr waited four years before getting her prized plot of land to garden at the Park Drive community garden.

Santa Monica officials say there are simply too many would-be gardeners and too little public garden space.

So gardeners and officials have come up with an idea they call the frontyard and backyard registry. The idea would connect gardeners with homeowners who are interested in hosting gardens but don’t have the time to care for them.

They are now developing the registry and looking for homeowners willing to allow a stranger with garden tools and seeds to tend a section of their yard.

This is one of several efforts by the city to reduce the waiting list for public garden space, which now stands at five years.

Santa Monica has three community gardens: Main Street, Park Drive and Euclid Park. Together they comprise 117 plots that residents can use, according to Kathy LePrevost, the community programs manager for City Hall.

“Community gardening is very popular. For years we have had a long waiting list,” LePrevost said.

So in 2005, the city proposed setting term limits on gardeners and reducing the size of the plots at the Main Street garden to create 30 more plots, increasing the number there from 60 to 90.

But when gardeners learned of the ideas at a Community Garden Advisory Committee meeting, they united against it.

Attendance at the meetings doubled, said Susan McCorry, a member of the committee and a gardener.

“We combed the city looking for places for more gardens,” McCorry said.

Tighter rules and regulations ensured that gardeners were tending to their plots.

“When we did that, the turnover went up,” said Bowler, who is now the chairman of the advisory committee.

But still, McCorry said, “What you really need is more gardens.”

Among the ideas proposed to the City Council were rooftop gardens, school gardens and gardens in existing parks. In April 2007, the city created 10 plots in Euclid Park.

But officials think the registry of private homes could do far more to open up gardening to all, and residents seem willing.

“It’s a great idea,” said homeowner Theresa Adkins, 44.

Years ago, Adkins said, she started a garden of her own but was unable to maintain it.

“I didn’t give it the tender love it needed,” she said, smiling.

When other homeowners were told of the idea, some couldn’t help but wonder: Who would they get? How would they agree on what to plant? Is there space for a garden? And where would it go?

“We would like a compatible person,” said Peter Broderick, standing next to his wife, Midge Sanford. “A flower person,” he added.

McCorry had said that although that idea to turn yards into edible landscape is getting a lot of support, the council is considering several possibilities.

“We’re still in the planning stages,” McCorry said. “There’s a lot of creative ideas cooking.”