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.


Life Saving Garden Strategies


Date: Saturday, September 8, 2018

Time: 10:30-12 pm and 1-2:30 pm

Location: Descanso Gardens, Van de Kamp Hall

Tickets:  $15, Reserve First Panel, Reserve Second Panel


This multifaceted seminar, hosted by LA’s iconic Descanso Gardens, will explore the many ways in which our public landscapes and private gardens can mitigate or exacerbate LA’s potential natural disasters. The seminar will be comprised of two seminars, which can be taken together or as individual classes. Details follow.


Mitigating LA’s Natural Disasters with Smart Landscape Choices

10:30-noon, Van de Kamp Hall

Seemingly unstoppable fires raged throughout the west in 2017, and California counted heavy losses in lives and property. Learn what combustible, invasive plant life to avoid, which plants have protective qualities, and which design strategies best protect homes from fire-wise landscape experts including:


From Tragedy of the Commons to Uncommon Fortune

1-2:30 pm, Van de Kamp Hall

Our minds often skip over the spaces between our public buildings and our roads, be they expanses of turf grass, weed-filled or paved medians. These places can be harnessed to increase LA’s resilience, mitigating our fire, flood and slide danger, and also increasing our neighborhoods’ social capital and home values.

Learn how to transform the tragedy of the commons into a powerful tool for building your neighborhood’s fortune. Our expert panel represents communities who have successfully transformed common spaces from the foothills to the beach, from the Valley to South LA. Expert panelists include:

Attendees will learn about the processes, people and resources it takes to transform community space, and the various models that have led to success.

Santa Monica Shotgun House To Receive Preservation Award

Canyon News. April 4, 2017. By Joanne: SANTA MONICA—On Wednesday, May 3, Santa Monica’s last remaining shotgun house will receive a Preservation Award from the Los Angeles Conservancy, in recognition of its historical significance and perseverance. According to the conservancy’s website, the award will be presented at the organization’s 36th annual awards luncheon at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, which will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.Read More

The Santa Monica shotgun house is all that’s left

But it’s also a glimpse of a possible future—an example of how to live simply but well

LA Curbed. March 31, 2017. By Patrick Lee (@RIPLEYCAL) Houses like the Santa Monica shotgun house were once as common as seagulls at the beach. They were tiny board-and-batten cottages along the strand where, late in the 19th century, families spent a weekend or a week or a season away from the stifling heat of Pasadena or Downtown Los Angeles. Read More