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Ocean Friendly Gardens Action in LA County

Ocean Friendly Gardens Are Protecting Clean Water & Building Resilient Community Partnerships in Southern California 

Healthy oceans, waves, and beaches rely on healthy watersheds. In urban areas, much of the natural environment has been paved over, flattened for development, and channelized to move water off the land as fast as possible. In Los Angeles County, this pattern creates a staggering 151 billion gallons of urban stormwater runoff per year that floods streets and neighborhoods and flushes pollution out to the ocean. If local rainfall was instead absorbed into the landscape, it could be used to provide 30% of LA’s annual water demand.

Ocean Friendly Gardens (OFGs) provide nature-based solutions throughout the watershed to slow down and soak up rain to reduce polluted runoff. Utilizing native plants that sequester carbon and thrive without lawn chemicals or other intensive maintenance, OFGs also support climate resiliency and local biodiversity. Every front yard, backyard, or community green space is an opportunity to restore habitat and regain the resilience of a healthy, functioning watershed. 

LA workdayVolunteers steward the Ocean Friendly Garden at Beyond Baroque

With support from Accelerate Resilience L.A., a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, the Surfrider Long Beach and Surfrider Los Angeles Chapters revitalized their Ocean Friendly Gardens programs this past year to form new community partnerships and engage volunteers in hands-on restoration action. Hundreds of participants learned about the benefits of watershed-wise and climate-wise landscaping practices, creating a positive ripple effect by taking their knowledge (and sometimes free native plants) home to apply in their own yards and neighborhoods. By developing diverse, meaningful community relationships, the OFG programs in LA County are fostering stewardship in new audiences and making an impact where it is needed the most. 

With the help of volunteers, the Surfrider Long Beach Chapter transformed two front yards from traditional, water-wasting monoculture lawns into resilient, rainwater harvesting gardens that soak up and prevent runoff. For many volunteers, it was their first time gardening with Ocean-Friendly methods, and it was inspiring to see them overcome their hesitations, get their hands dirty, and enjoy becoming confident in their own abilities.

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Volunteers learn hands-on how to create rain gardens in front yards in Long Beach

Surfrider Long Beach also teamed up with volunteers at the Veterans Affairs Patient Garden to install six 50-gallon rain barrels that collect and store roof runoff from the garden’s greenhouse. The VA Patient Garden serves as a peaceful refuge for veterans and healthcare workers at the hospital, a meeting place for therapy groups, and features accessible areas for people with mobility-aiding devices. During a follow-up OFG workday, participants got hands-on experience in applying sheet mulch, hand-weeding to reduce pesticide use, and planting native species. The VA Patient Garden was happy to have help from the chapter’s young, active volunteers who could tackle some of these more physically intensive tasks in the garden, and the chapter’s volunteers enjoyed exploring this hidden gem of green space while giving back to their community.

VA garden volunteers-1OFG workday at the VA Patient Garden

Long Beach OFG volunteers also partnered with Puente Latino Association to organize two native milkweed giveaways, distributing nearly 5,000 seedlings from the Santa Monica Mountains Fund. Bilingual classes about milkweed were provided in English and Spanish, encouraging participants to adopt sustainable alternatives to often toxic, conventional landscaping practices. The giveaways were an accessible way to inspire community members to reimagine their outdoor surroundings and to take climate action at home. 

The chapter collaborated with Long Beach Utilities to host a workday at an OFG installed by the city as part of a revitalization effort in a low-income neighborhood. The front yard had become overgrown because the residents were physically unable to keep up with the maintenance. Volunteers removed weeds, replanted plants, and learned about rainwater retention features like swales and berms. The chapter was able to help out the mobility-limited residents while utilizing the space as a teaching tool for OFG stewardship, a win-win for everyone. 

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Left: Two participants with their native milkweed seedlings, Right: OFG workday with LB Utilities

Further up the coast, the Surfrider Los Angeles Chapter hosted OFG workdays with the Westwood Neighborhood Greenway and Beyond Baroque: both vibrant green spaces that capture and filter rainwater while offering climate-resilient refuge from the highly urbanized neighborhood. Through partnerships with the organizations stewarding these OFGs, the chapter is connecting volunteers with meaningful opportunities for climate action and community stewardship. 

LA westwood greenway 2-1Volunteers remove weeds in the bioswale at Westwood Greenway in Los Angeles

Both chapters look forward to cultivating and nurturing new partnerships to bring Ocean Friendly Gardens to more neighborhoods in LA County and are already off to a good start in 2024 by installing a rain garden at Shoreline Village in Long Beach and transforming a thirsty lawn into a native oasis in the Leimert Park neighborhood of South Los Angeles. You can learn more about Ocean Friendly Gardens and how you can bring nature-based solutions to your own yard on