What to Expect at the Sierra Madre Post Office

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.

Yearling White Sage may this size as it develops its roots. In its third year, it may have an eight foot diameter.


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.

Girlscouts gaze at the hip-height silver foliage of the Brittlebush they planted 2 years before.
At the second anniversary of the city hall garden installation, girlscouts assess the success of the Brittlebush they planted.


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?


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.

In its fourth year, only the tree in the New Look for LA in the Center Circle at Descanso Gardens had yet to reach its full size.


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?

Sources and Resources

Dig In at the Post Office!

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!

Post Office Design Reveal

Date: May 9, 2022

Time: 6:30 pm

Location: Hart House, Memorial Park (Directions)

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


Fire Prevention Festival

Date: Saturday, October 9, 2021

Time: 11:00 am – 2:00 pm

Location: Sierra Madre Fire Station, 242 West Sierra Madre Blvd. (Map)

More Information: City of Sierra Madre, 626-355-3611

The Sierra Madre Fire Department hosts an annual Fire Prevention Festival, at the Sierra Madre Fire Station. Join us for hot dogs, popcorn, bounce houses, balloons and prizes for children. Hang out with real firefighters and learn about fire trucks, as well as the fire-defensive gardens that surround the station. There will be fire safety and prevention demonstrations from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm.

Fire-Wise, low-maintenance native foliage, from Yucca Whipplei and Oregon Grape to Ceanothus and Carex Pansa surround the Sierra Madre Police and Fire Department.

How to Build Certified Wildlife Habitat

Realtor.com. August 3, 2018. By Wendy Herman: Imagine waking up each morning to songbirds outside your window, or spotting a colorful swarm of butterflies in your backyard. It’s entirely possible if you transform your outdoor space into a Certified Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation.


“By the simple way we choose to landscape our gardens or properties, we can invite local species back into the land that was once theirs,” says David Mizejewski, a naturalist with the federation for over 18 years. Read More

Take 10 Actions for Fire Safety

Increase Fire Safety, Beauty and Return on Investment

By Cassy Aoyagi: Our understanding of what puts homes and properties in danger is evolving. We now know that flying embers are most often responsible for home ignition and that homes can burn while nearby foliage remains intact. We also know that steps we took to save water in drought have made us more vulnerable to fire, flooding and mudslides. So where do we go from here?

Here are 10 steps we can take to protect lives and property. (As if that weren’t worthwhile enough, each step will increase beauty and can even deliver higher home values!)


Plant Natives

The same qualities that help native plants stay lush and leafy in drought serve us well in fire season. As they are well-adapted to our climate cycles, native plants tend to retain hydration through our hot, dry summers. While no plant is fire-proof, well-hydrated plants have an advantage in resisting fire. As homebuyers seek low-maintenance, low-water landscapes, planting natives also delivers dividends at sale.

Tip: Click the photo above to see a gallery of our favorites native plants. While natives will consistently maintain hydration better than non-natives, there are a few that are particularly fire resilient.

The Calscape database is a wonderful resource for getting to know native flora. Native nurseries offer both foliage and abundant know-how and educational programs. See El Nativo Growers (Wholesale/Trade), Las Pilitas Nursery, and Theodore Payne Foundation Nursery.


Remove Invasive Plants

Several popular plants marketed as “drought tolerant” like Pampas, Feather, and Fountain grasses, and Pride of Madeira, are easily ignited. These plants travel from our gardens to wildspaces on the breeze and our hiking boots. As they are not well-adapted to our climate, they quickly dry out without supplemental water, increasing our fire danger.
Tip: Do not plant invasive plants in home or community gardens. See the California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC) for help removing invasives from public spaces. Visit Plant Right for lists of invasive plants and native replacements with similar aesthetics.


Space and Place Plants Carefully

All foliage needs room to grow to it’s full, mature size, particularly trees and shrubs. This action will not only increase fire safety, it will result in greater long-term design integrity and significantly reduced brush clearance and overall maintenance demands. Planting small and allowing foliage to mature in place will deliver additional benefits. Foliage will be healthier, less expensive, and appreciate in value as it grows.

Tip: Research the mature size of the foliage you intend to plant. The amount of space needed by a Coast Live Oak (82H x 35W) will be substantially bigger than that needed by a Western Redbud (20H x 20H), for example. Create a design plan to ensure foliage has room to grow. As you plant, look up and around to ensure the full sized tree or shrub will be far from structures, wires and will complement other plants.


Plant and Protect Trees

Healthy tree canopy at a safe distance from rooftops can act as catchers mitts for flying embers and shield a home. This is really lovely news, as treeful landscapes provide so many other benefits, from decreasing energy costs and increasing home value to shading outdoor spaces and attracting birds.

Tip: Native trees including Coast Live Oak, Palo Verde, and Western Redbuds are particularly beneficial and appropriate to our urban spaces. As with native plants more generally, native trees have advantages in resisting infections, diseases, and maintaining hydration in drought.


Remove Palms

LA’s iconic palm trees greatly increase fire danger. They ignite easily, become explosive, and help fire travel. This is particularly true for those that have dried beards of fronds. Where much native foliage is protective, this is not true of LA’s native palm trees.

Tip: Avoid planting new palms. Check to see if your municipality offers incentives for removing palms. If you have a palm tree you simply can’t imagine taking down, invest in aggressive maintenance. Take great care with hydration, hand watering where necessary.


Reduce Ember “Bowling Alleys”

While gravel and decomposed granite paths and patios provide fire breaks and defensible space, gravelscapes and intensely hardscape areas create free-space for embers to roll into homes. This is more dangerous than having low, well-hydrated foliage that may catch embers at a distance from the home.

Tip: Maintain or plant low-growing, ideally native, foliage rather than gravel or hardscaping large areas. In addition to increasing your safety, it will save energy and therefore save money!



Well-hydrated objects do not burn. This includes both foliage and homes. Smart irrigation paired with mulching is a great way to ensure foliage and the soil itself maintains hydration through LA’s hot and dry months.

Australians in fire-prone regions have tested rooftop sprinkling systems that, likewise, make homes too wet to burn. We are starting to see these systems marketed here as well.

Tip: Check irrigation systems monthly to ensure proper functioning. Use all organic wood chip mulch – avoid combustible rubber mulches.

Clean and Store

Keeping your landscape tidy and healthy helps your home resist fire. Debris, dry weeds, dead plants, cushions and curtains, even un-stored tools and furniture become places where embers can catch. This is true on hardscapes and in gutters – everywhere. Knowing this step protects and improves home value definitely makes it easier to whistle while you work!

Tip: Readily accessible storage for flammable objects, for example, in-furniature storage for cushions, reduces these dangers and increases the likelihood that items will often be away when not in use. Here, your investment in native plants will save time and reduce waste.


Inspire Your Community

Particularly at the Urban Wildland Interface, public property impacts the safety of our private property. It is in our best interests to work together to reduce this danger. Communities that come together to reshape common ground, removing invasives, and stabilizing slopes (like Sunland, La Crescenta, and Sierra Madre) increase their luck and resilience.

Tip: Resilience hubs and Fire Safe Councils, supported by fire agencies, are great places to start and have incredible impacts. Other possible steps include encouraging local nurseries to carry more natives and to cease offering invasive foliage. Evaluate the condition of nearby open and vacant spaces. If you see problems, bring community together to improve the space.

Develop Outside Fire Paths

While we’ve long thought locating within a city would protects us, the impact of recent fires on Santa Rosa and Paradise show the limits of that protection. The fact is that we have built communities within known fire pathways. Those homes are simply in greater danger than those located in areas that burn less frequently.

Tip: As we work to create more housing, policy makers, planners and developers must consider fire-safety as a criteria for assessing and locating new developments. As citizens, we can encourage them to do so.

Visit Examples

Examples of fire wise landscapes can be seen at LAFD Station 74, the Sunland Welcome Nature Garden, the Fire Station Garden in the Authentic Foothill Gardens at Sierra Madre City Hall, the Rosemont Preserve, and the Fire Wise demonstration garden at Theodore Payne Foundation.

More Information

  • Take Action When Fires Are Near
  • Expect Resilience Post-Fire
  • Prepare for Debris Flow
  • Fight Fire with Smart Design
  • Are You a Fire Fighter?
  • Disaster Preventing Plant Palettes
  • Disaster Preventing Plant Palettes
  • Plant Choice: Angels and Arsonists
  • Palm Trees as Fire Hazards
  • Combustibility of Landscape Mulches