Along South Baldwin, two planted areas are separated the center staircase. While established trees cover the area, they are deciduous and diaphanous, offering little shade. Designers chose native foliage that can take direct sun; enjoy high, dry heat; and root deeply to help maintain the slight slope.
Lead volunteers Bob Spears and Jim Walsworth added beautiful infrastructure to the space, adding a custom modern bench to hide irrigation controls and offer a shaded place to rest near the post office doors. They also constructed the rock border at the base of each garden.
New Sierra Madre Post Office Garden Saves Water, Demonstrates Fire Safety
During the ribbon cutting for a new model fire-defensive landscape at the Louis Van Iersel Post Office, Representative Judy Chu awarded Bob Spears, Jim Walsworth, and Georgia Case with congressional recognition and celebrated Sierra Madre’s spirit of community contribution.
“This community certainly comes together to make great things happen. I want to thank all our volunteers,” noted Representative Chu. “Our lead volunteers, Bob Spears and Jim Walsworth tirelessly fundraised, organized and literally moved boulders to make this landscape a reality. I also want to thank John and Georgia case, the owners of the post office property, who saw how important this project was and welcomed the renovation.”
Spears and Walsworth, retired firefighters, dreamed of creating fire defensive demonstration garden. In 2021, they approached the Case Family to get permission to renovate the space. They then selected expert landscapers and engaged the community to envision, fund and plant the space.
“This entire project was done with donated money,” noted Spears. “There is no post office money involved, no city money involved. This was all citizens stepping up and deciding this was a good project for Sierra Madre. This garden and its features reflect the new and improved values of our community.”
The post office landscape now demonstrates several features homeowners can mimic to amplify their property’s wildfire safety – and that of the community. Noteworthy features include:
Zone 0: The landscape contains only ember resistant materials in the 5-feet closest to the building.
Hyperlocal Native Foliage: Fire resilient native foliage will maintain hydration in high, dry heat.
Smart Irrigation: Low-flow, hydrozoned subsurface drip irrigation minimizes water use.
Bioswale: The sloped, rocky area at the corner of the property will ensure storms feed Sierra Madre’s groundwater and water independence. Sinking water onsite will also support the resilience of plant life.
Educational Markers: Plaques and botanical markers placed throughout the landscape further its educational purpose.
The project demonstrates more than fire defensive landscaping practices, noted Sierra Madre City Council Member Parkhurst: “This project demonstrates how Sierra Madre residents care about the city. It took only an hour to plant this expansive space, as so many showed up to help.”
Spears and Walsworth did a great deal of heavy lifting on their own to minimize costs. With professional guidance, they installed the smart irrigation, created the bioswale, and directed a downspout to capture rainfall from the post office roof. Walsworth built a beautiful bench to house and hide the irrigation controls. The pair also salvaged stones from the city yards and built a rock border to edge the landscape.
Donations from local agencies and businesses also supported the project. The San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District (SGV-MWD) provided a grant for the renovation. Athens Services donated their removal of green waste as the site was cleared. Rainbird donated the landscape’s smart irrigation system. FormLA Landscaping donated the landscape design, educational instruction, and support for volunteer construction and plant installation. They also sourced and delivered foliage purchased from the Theodore Payne Foundation Nursery and El Nativo Growers. The garden’s signage and botanical markers were purchased from Orion Garden Marker.
Georgia Case, who represented the Case Family at the event, noted that this landscape renovation provides a useful model for other property owners who lease to the U.S. Postal Service throughout the country.
Now that the Sierra Madre Post Office garden foliage is in the ground, the garden is 33 percent complete. It typically takes three years and skilled maintenance for a properly planted native garden to achieve its full aesthetic and impact. It is worth the wait!
The garden’s foliage will “sleep, creep, then leap.” Here is what that will look and feel like.
YEAR 1: SLEEP
In its first year, the foliage you installed may feel tiny and growth-free. It may appear seem as if it will fail to thrive. This is all normal! In the first year, expect:
Aesthetic: Plants look small and feel stagnant
New foliage grows a great deal in the first year, but all this growth is underground. Its first priority is developing a deep the root system that will ensure it thrives long term through LA’s full climate cycle. Above ground, foliage may appear stagnant. This is no reason to worry… 93-97 percent of the foliage planted can be expected to succeed long term.
Needs: Watchful eyes… and patience
The garden’s foliage will need deep supplemental water, but not too much and not too often. It will appreciate three inches of organic mulch to keep its roots cool and hydrated. It will not respond favorably to chemical fertilizers, pesticides or insecticides, but sweet talk and singing? That may be worth a try!
Notice: While the garden’s new plants may have just a few blooms, you may catch them flirting with butterflies, bees, and birds.
YEAR 2: CREEP
In the second year, foliage will begin to grow above ground. It’s okay to get excited!
Aesthetic: Something is happening!
We’ll begin to notice new growth above ground in 2024. This may look like a plant slightly increasing in height or width or sprouting a few inches from where it was installed. (This will feel particularly pronounced in the foliage you planted.) There will be still more blooms!
Needs: Structural prunes and cut-backs
As foliage begins to grow, this is when we most want to guide its shape and path. It’s a particularly important time for trees and large shrubs – we will structure them for long term form and health. Even as the native foliage begins to grow above ground, it will not want excessive water, nor will it appreciate chemical fertilizers or pesticides. It may now be quite attached to the sound of your voice.
Notice: Are the plants you installed growing taller? Or wider?
YEAR 3: LEAP!
Surprise! The lush, leafy, lovely, low-water garden we all envisioned may appear quite suddenly.
Aesthetic: This is what we imagined!
In its third year, the garden will have the shape we imagined. It will feels\ lush, leafy, lovely, full and full of life. Blooms and berries will be abundant, and fauna will begin making it home. Large shrubs and trees may still have space to grow – and they will. Groundcovers and mid-sized plants will seem to have achieved perfection and may now want a little more territory than shown in the initial design.
Needs: Less water, less attention, more enjoyment!
The deep roots of our foliage will give it the ability to withstand our hot, dry summers with less water. It will continue to appreciate about three inches of organic mulch, as it keeps the soil cool and helps it retain hydration. At this point, we’ll begin deep winter cut-backs to make sure the garden maintains its form through abundant spring growth.
Notice: Even with most of its foliage at full size, the garden as a whole has form. There is no need for “brush clearance,” as each plant is in the right place with just enough space.
YEAR 4: WELL ESTABLISHED
Beyond the three year establishment period, the garden will continue to grow. At some point it will feel like a perpetual garden party.
Aesthetic: Garden Tour Worthy!
We’ll likely wonder how the garden could be more beautiful than it was the year before. We may begin to see some spreaders like Indian Mallow, Yarrow and Red Buckwheat try to leave their defined territory. (It’s okay if to delight in that!) Trees and hedges will feel robust, and they may create cooler microclimates surrounding the post office. The garden’s colors, textures, blooms and berries change with the seasons. Birds, butterflies and fauna will have settled into the habitat we’ve created.
Needs: Not Much…
Well established foliage will need even less water and have still-greater resilience. It will continue to appreciate fresh, deep mulch, particularly in high heat and low water years. Effectively spaced and placed for fire defense and growth, pruning will maintain health and form. Even as it ages, it will be happy to hear you talk and sing to it!
Notice: Even once the garden is “done,” it continues to evolve and change. Daily! A new bloom. A new berry. A color change. Caterpillars cocooning. A new nest. What do you notice?
A new habitat authentic to Sierra Madre will soon surround the Sierra Madre Post Office. You can help bring it to life! We hope you’ll join us for the following Saturday volunteer events:
October 15th – Celebration of Water Independence: Attendees will see the inner workings of the new bioswale, learn about refueling groundwater, and get a chance to dig in to help create the new feature. RSVP Now
November 5 – Drip Irrigation Demonstration: Rainbird professionals will teach attendees how to install and navigate low-flow drip irrigation. They’ll also discuss how drip systems like these lessen the impact of drought and water restrictions. RSVP Now
December 3rd – Plant for Life: Help us fill the post office property with native foliage – habitat to local fauna and humans too! You’ll learn why it’s so important to plant “the right plant in the right place.” RSVP Now
If you’d like to support the creation of this new habitat and community resource, please follow the QR code below to donate. Thank you for your love of the city and commitment to making it ever-more resilient – we look forward to seeing you soon!
Have you noticed the changes to the Sierra Madre Post Office landscape?
The garden surrounding the office will soon look and feel similar to the lush, leafy landscape surrounding city hall. It’s plant palette includes some of the foliage you love in the Authentic Foothill Gardens – as well as some distinctive to the space.
Some of the new post office foliage is distinctive from that at city hall – yet also authentic to the foothills.
Other foliage you will likely recognize from strolling along the trails at city hall.
Check out the full plant palette in Pinterest to learn more, or simply take the plant palette to the nursery with you.
Beyond the native foliage, you’ll see a rock bioswale – it has already gone to work sinking stormwater from January rains to refuel the city’s groundwater.
Watch our news and events for details about the garden’s official ribbon cutting.
Join us for the first of three events that will result in a beautiful, sustainable habitat surrounding the Sierra Madre Post Office!
During this first, Zoom-based event, four time Sustainable Innovation Award Winning Designer Isara Ongwiseth and FormLA LandscapingPresident Cassy Aoayagi will discuss their latest designs and gather community feedback. We want your insights!
Future events will include opportunities to learn about the inner workings of the low-flow drip irritation and the bioswale, as well as to dig in with us to plant native foliage designed to provide habitat for local fauna (including humans!).
Between the design reveal and future events, may we invite you to sit on a new bench? This stylish mid-century addition is the perfect place to sit and imagine the garden to be!
RSVP: Not Required, All Sierra Madre Stakeholders Welcome
Do you love the City of Sierra Madre? We want to hear from you! Join the FormLA® Landscaping design team as we gather perspectives to inform the design of the new Sierra Madre Post Office landscape. Along with project champion Bob Spears, we’ll discuss design concepts, answer questions, and field potential community volunteer days. We know we’ll enjoy envisioning a greener, more resilient Sierra Madre with you!
2019 Super Bloom in the Authentic Foothill Gardens at Sierra Madre City Hall