Modeling Authenticity

Conservancy Preserves Architecture, Ocean Health and Beach Aesthetic

Hilda Weiss is a fourth generation Californian and an avid hiker and native plant enthusiast. She is the co-founder of Poetry.LA and, in 2012, renovated her own garden using all-natives. In 2014, she convinced the Santa Monica Conservancy to consider a similar ocean friendly plant palette to surround its new headquarters in the Ocean Park neighborhood of Santa Monica. Here is their story.


Shotgun House Coastal Garden

A petite, all-native garden complements this historic 1890s shotgun house, now the Santa Monica Conservancy’s Preservation Resource Center. Planted on the site of a former parking lot, the landscape faces the challenges of a commercial environment, as well as common community concerns. The garden contains coastal natives, including San Miguel Island Buckwheat, Island Snapdragon, California Fuchsia, Common Yarrow, and Coyote Mint which are paired with a miniature bioswale to clean runoff on its last mile to the ocean.

The garden was designed by Cassy Aoyagi, president of FormLA Landscaping, funded by community organizations and residents, and is now maintained by the city as well as Santa Monica Conservancy master gardeners Hilda Weiss and Lorraine Sanchez.


About the Project



  • Preservation   The Conservancy preserves Santa Monica’s architectural treasures.
  • Conservation  Santa Monica aims to achieve water independence by 2020.


  • Keep water use to a minimum
  • Beautify the site and the community


  • Initiator: Hilda Weiss, Santa Monica Conservancy
  • Designers:  Cassy Aoyagi, FormLA Landscaping

Budget – Cost Mitigation:

  • Local businesses stepped-up with in-kind donations.
  • City grounds crews as well as Conservancy docents maintain the site.


  • Fundraisers: The Santa Monica Conservancy
  • In-Kind: Bourget Brothers donated pavers for the walk way. Fonda-Bonardi & Hohman Architects designed the ADA-compliant approach. FormLA Landscaping donated garden design. Merrihew’s Sunset Gardens supplied the plants, many of them from Theodore Payne Foundation. Smith Pipe and Supply provided pipe for the irrigation system. Zinner Consultants shepherded the project through its LEED certification.


  • A steep ramp became a winding walkway that met ADA compliance and now provides visitors with more vantage points for viewing the garden.
  • The site, a former fire station, posed some challenges. When one of three Western Redbud trees planted in the south garden failed to thrive, a piece of the former station’s foundation was discovered. The tree was replaced with Island snapdragon which has grown well in spite of the limited root space.
  • Natives, planted with appropriate spacing, seemed sparse, and some requested more plantings. The garden team held firm and in a matter of months the garden had filled in.
  • Similarly, when the petite bioswale went in, some did not like the look of rocks in the garden. This issue was resolved by covering the rocks with mulch.
  • Now the garden faces the opposite challenges! It grows quickly, and city gardeners want to buzz cut much of the foliage into hedges. The solution has been for Conservancy docents and master gardeners to brief them on preferences and to contribute to the pruning and shaping process.

Returns on Investment

  • 41 percent decrease in runoff
  • 90 percent of the water is treated by the site
  • 80 percent of solids are filtered on site

Strategies to Replicate

  • Articles in the Conservancy newsletter about the garden and the garden docents helped build support for the native plants garden.
  • A Garden Guide handout was created to encourage visitors to explore the garden in more detail. It includes a numbered location map connected to the plant photos and names.
  • A Kid’s Guide to the Shotgun House includes photos and questions about the garden.
  • Youth field trips to the Shotgun House include a segment exploring the native plants garden.
  • A prominent plaque inside the front door of the Shotgun House recognizes donors.
  • LEED® certification is highlighted with photos and text on a wall display.



A flourishing coastal garden surrounds the Santa Monica Conservancy’s Preservation Resource Center at the Shotgun House. Replacing part of a parking lot, this petite paradise of native foliage thrives in sandy soils and salty sea air, come drought or El Nino.


Home and garden now offer Santa Monica residents examples of architectural conservation and authentic ocean-friendly gardening.

The garden provides several benefits to the Center and nearby community. It cools the space around the building and offers a visual reprieve between the paved, commercial area and a residential community. The garden serves as a model for the kind of lush, leafy, low-water landscape that loves life at the beach.

The coastal garden at the Shotgun House protects Santa Monica’s independent groundwater table, the ocean, and the health of surfers and swimmers. It gives rainwater and runoff a place to permeate and be cleansed by the soil. Because the native plants thrive in Santa Monica’s weather and soils, the garden is low maintenance and contributes no toxic chemical fertilizers or pesticides to the water leaving the site – a great gift to everyone!


There are a few predictable impacts of creating a garden authentic to beach communities.  Here is where we intend to make an impact for Santa Monica and in your life.

Protect Our Cool

Choosing a lush, leafy garden with foliage authentic to the beach keeps the area surrounding the Preservation Resource Center cool and protect established trees.  This not only makes for a more enjoyable outdoor space, it can actually cool the center and nearby buildings as well.

Save  Water

Saving the water that is applied to a piece of land is only part of the equation, particularly near the beach.  Opting for plants over pavement allows water to infiltrate the soil and be cleansed on its way to the ocean, protecting ocean life (including surfers!). Of course, we also wanted to be responsible with our applied water needs.  This lush, leafy garden saves anywhere from 70-80 percent of the water used to maintain a more traditional garden.

Reduce Operational Costs

We expect our choices to save on typical operational costs, including:

  1. 100 percent of the annual flower budget
  2. 100 percent of the toxic chemical fertilizer budget
  3. 100 percent of the toxic chemical pesticide budget
  4. 100 percent of soil amendment budget
  5. 81 percent of the time spent on maintenance
  6. 75 percent or more of the funds used for mower petrol
  7. 60-80 percent of the water previously needed
  8. 63 percent of fees associated with garden waste
  9. 15-50 percent of the energy dedicated to climate control

Improve Your Life

Public spaces impact home values, particularly park and school spaces. The garden not only gives you and your family a place to  enjoy, it can:

  • Increase nearby home values
  • Reduce neighborhood heat, attract consumers to business areas, and
  • Appreciate in value as the foliage grows

Provide an Example

While the drought increased California’s focus on saving water, we have needs and goals beyond simple water savings.  We want to protect our area from polluted runoff, fires and slides; cool the air naturally where possible; and maintain the beauty of our community.  We intend this garden to serve as a model for reaching all of those goals with our garden choices.