Though residents represent all ages, the friendly setting makes Larchmont Village particularly attractive to first-time homeowners ready to start families. Stacia Payne and Jose Marin were such a couple. Their new home was showing its age, but Marin enthusiastically tackled project after project, such as renovating the kitchen and replacing windows. Meanwhile, the couple had two daughters, Maya and then Luisa. Redoing the front yard was next on Marin's list.
Payne wanted steps wide and tall enough to sit on comfortably, preferably with company, while she watched her daughters play in adjoining yards, and landscaping that had character but didn't obstruct the view or require high maintenance. Her good friend June Scott, a garden designer, came up with the plan.
Then Marin got started. He poured the foundation for the steps, rented a rototiller, and spent a day preparing the soil for new plants. "There goes Jose again," neighbor Judy Dugan remembers thinking.
That night, Marin suffered a fatal asthma attack. The family was stunned, and so was the neighborhood. "We were all grieving and felt the need to help in some concrete way," says neighbor Charlie Hutchinson. Finishing the job Marin started ― the rototiller was still in the yard ― seemed like the obvious thing to do, he says. "We couldn't leave it undone. We just pulled together without thinking about it."
Within a few days, Payne's neighbors were organized and swung into gear. They bought plants and material, assessed their skills, divvied up tasks, and went to work. During the next two weeks, they "planted and cried and then planted and cried some more," Payne says. "It was pretty therapeutic, actually."
That was more than three years ago. Today, Payne's landscaping functions exactly the way she hoped it would. Children play here; she seeks refuge in the space when she needs downtime, and the friends who put their time, energy, and love into finishing this garden visit often.
"Stacia doesn't even claim the garden as hers," says neighbor Cesario Tio. "It's become the neighborhood garden."
DESIGN: June Scott Garden Design, South Pasadena, CA (626/441-0040)