She’s been a loyal, veteran volunteer, yet La Cañada Valley Beautiful President Betsy Bazdarich had a negative impression of the group when she moved to La Cañada Flintridge in 1980.
Bazdarich at first thought the nonprofit organization, founded in 1964 to improve and beautify LCF, was the female version of a good ol’ boys club — a notion she soon discarded upon realizing that it consisted of hard-working people from a variety of backgrounds.
“I figured if I could belong and help out and do whatever is asked of me, that’s the least I could do,” Bazdarich said of the group, which maintains and upgrades public landscapes, recognizes home and commercial gardens, and last July was granted $12,000 in the city budget to carry out its work.
“And I really like the idea that we try to make the neighborhoods better,” added Bazdarich, a retired teacher who began her first year as president in October, during a recent interview near the La Cañada Unified School District offices, where the organization has been enhancing the surrounding landscape. “Instead of punishing people you give an example of what it looks like to have a really nice home and get an award, and I think that motivates other people to try and do that too.”
The organization also has done projects near Lanterman Auditorium and a major landscaping endeavor at the La Cañada Flintridge Library.
“With budget cutbacks for landscaping public venues, it’s nice to be able to make the community look nicer,” said Carolyn Hanna, the group’s projects chair.
She said during her time with the organization, dating to 2000, La Cañada Valley Beautiful has completed more than 20 projects. The library, whose maintenance has been turned over to Los Angeles County, was a long-term project, Hanna said.
“That was a lot of fun and I think it was the first drought-tolerant garden that was planted in La Cañada,” Hanna said. “It was a demonstration garden and teaching people about water-wise plants from around the world.”
Linda Fults, who is in charge of the green landscape awards, said the group began the process of putting in drought-tolerant gardens at the library in 2007.
“It was the biggest project we ever did,” Fults said. For five consecutive years, different gardens with native landscaping were planted alongside a West Cape Africa garden, a Mediterranean garden and others.
“People come down there and look at the signs and get ideas” for their own gardens, Fults said, adding that maintenance people from the nonprofit took care of the property until the county took it over.
La Cañada Valley Beautiful now provides maintenance to the LCF post office grounds after budget cutbacks.
“We’ve done some planting down there,” Hanna said. “It’s a big area, not just one part of it. We saw plants were dying and it wasn’t taken care of just because they weren’t able to, so we stepped in. People have called us and said, ‘There’s a broken sprinkler head at the post office.’ So then I will call and have someone go down and take a look at it and fix it.”
The group’s latest project has involved the LCUSD landscaping across the street from Lanterman Auditorium on Cornishon Avenue.
“Our latest projects have been to redo their landscaping in a more attractive, drought-tolerant way,” Fults said.
LCUSD Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said the district is highly appreciative of the organization’s work.
“The projects that they take on throughout the city of La Cañada Flintridge are truly amazing,” Sinnette said. “Here at the district offices I notice every day the beatification done, both in front of the governing board room and at Lanterman Auditorium. Their expertise in terms of landscape design is impressive. The plants they select are beautiful, sustainable, drought tolerant, and complement the natural settings in aesthetically pleasing ways.
“La Cañada Valley Beautiful represents what I see so often in La Cañada,” Sinnette added. “People using their expertise and giving their time and talent to improve the community and make a positive difference in the lives of their neighbors.”
Hanna said the group’s mission is simple.
“We are just a group that tries to encourage landscaping — pleasant landscaping — in town and residential as well as commercial,” she said.
Hanna said she has no special training, just a strong interest in plants and landscaping since she moved to California in 1971 from Wichita, Kansas.
“Gardening is kind of therapeutic for me,” Hanna said. “I enjoy puttering around and growing vegetables. I grew up in the Midwest and my family had farms … so growing and flowers was all part of growing up.”
The organization used to be more hands on with landscaping projects but now does more hiring, Hanna said. Fults said board members “would do weeding and all of that,” but now “we pay professionals to do that.”
Treasurer Eva Macho said on Wednesday that the organization typically spends $20,000-$25,000 a year, primarily for projects.
“If we find a project we can’t afford, we put it off,” Macho said. “We do spend all the money we get every year because we’re a nonprofit and we have to. We would take suggestions on projects that people have.”
The organization hands out awards in three categories: residential, commercial and green. Residential honors are distributed among three geographic areas of the city. Commercial awards cover all commercial and public facilities in LCF, and eligibility for green awards includes residential, commercial and public facilities throughout town.
According to the organization’s website, properties are judged by what can be seen from the street, including landscape design, color combination of flowers and plants, and texture in the form of shrubs and trees.
For the Green Award, according to the site, important criteria are low-water-use landscaping with limited turf and the use of permeable surfaces.
“We struggled to find houses that we thought were worthy of green awards in the beginning because there were so few,” said Hanna of the award that was first given in 2011. “Now there’s a lot. And we’re really happy about that.”
Hanna said she believes the organization and its awards have made residents more aware of their own landscaping.
“Sometimes neighbors and friends will nominate people, which is very nice,” Hanna said. “If someone suggests a yard, we will always go check it out. Somebody might see us driving around slowly. … We hope we’re not looking like we’re casing the neighborhood.”
Fults said people have recommended themselves or neighbors’ gardens for an award.
“It’s a very small town,” Fults said. “Carolyn and I are always looking [for possible award winners]. “I’ll go ‘Oh, look at that.’ I’ll write it down and look at it. We’re just searching around.”
For information about volunteering or donating, visit lacanadavalleybeautiful.org.