10 Fire Wise Landscape Qualities

 

It’s up to each of us to make LA safer and more resilient.

 By Cassy Aoyagi: After evacuating husband, boy, pup and chickens from our home last year, my long term interest in fire-wise landscapes became an obsession. We spent much of 2017 and 2018 waist deep in research and deep in conversation with expert after expert. In August, as LAFD began gearing up for a heavy fire season, we had the honor of curating a panel of fire-wise landscape experts for Descanso Gardens.  

  With so much misinformation about fires and our landscapes out there, we think it is critical for Angelenos, and California more broadly, to understand the qualities of a fire-wise, home-protective landscape.  

10 Fire-Wise Landscapes Qualities

     

  1. Native: While no plant is fire-proof, some native foliage does a particularly good job of withstanding drought and heat, retaining moisture that helps these plants resist fire. Here are a few of our favorites.
  2.   

  3. Non-Invasive: Several popular plants marketed as “drought tolerant”, like Pampas, Feather, and Fountain grasses, and Pride of Madeira, are actually quite combustible. When these plants make their way into wilds space, they act like arsonists, increasing our fire danger.
  4.   

  5. Well-Spaced and Placed: Planting foliage young with room to grow to its full size will minimize the amount of fire clearance necessary each year. It’s also a great way to save money and maximize the impact of landscape on your home’s appreciation.
  6.   

  7. Treeful: Healthy tree canopy at a safe distance from rooftops can shield a home from flying embers. This is really lovely news, as treeful landscapes provide so many other benefits.
  8.   

  9. Palm-Free: LA’s native palm trees live in marsh-like areas where fire danger is low. In contrast, when planted near foothills and homes, palms present grave dangers.
  10.   

  11. Devoid of Ember “Bowling Alleys:” The gravelscapes created to respond to drought, as well as some fire-clearance methods create ample free-space for embers to roll into homes.
  12.   

  13. Well-Irrigated: Well-hydrated objects, even those that may otherwise be considered fuel, do not burn. This includes both foliage and homes. Smart irrigation can get your foliage there. Australians in fire-prone regions have tested rooftop sprinkling systems that, likewise, make homes too wet to burn.
  14.   

  15. Clean: Keeping your landscape tidy and healthy helps your home resist fire. Debris, weeds, dead plants, even un-stored tools become places where embers can catch. This is true on hardscapes, in gutters – everywhere.
  16.   

  17. Smartly Located: We have built communities within known fire pathways. Those homes are simply in greater danger than those located in areas that burn less frequently. As we work to create more housing, policy makers, planners and developers must consider fire-safety as a criteria for judging locations.
  18.   

  19. In Proactive Communities: Invasive plants will find their way to wild spaces. We have common areas that create bowling alleys. 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.

  Please note that these are proactive steps to take well before fire breaks out in your area. 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 NearExpect Resilience Post-FirePrepare for Debris FlowFight Fire with Smart DesignAre You a Fire Fighter?Disaster Preventing Plant Palettes

About Roger Klemm

The Sunland Welcome Nature Garden is one of many community beautification and restoration projects completed by Roger Klemm has completed since moving to the area in 1989.

In 2011, with the help of the community, Klemm instigated the Sunland Welcome Nature Garden, a native plant makeover of a community entrance garden. The project involved removing an expansive hillside of invasive, combustible Fountain Grass. From there, Klemm instigated a native plant propagation effort that at its peak included over 50 different species, totaling several hundred plants. The garden was planted in 2013, and has expanded to the Wildflowering Annex across the street. As all gardens, it continues to evolve over time.

The Sunland Welcome Nature Garden builds upon Klemm’s long history of community contributions. Since buying their first house in Lake View Terrace in 1989, Klemm has been interested in environmentally sensible landscaping. He and his wife landscaped the yard of their first house in climate-appropriate and California native plants, enjoying a lush and interesting yard without using much water or slaving over the lawn mower every week.

While living in Lake View Terrace, Klemm was active in the community with an interest in plants native to the state of California that are appropriate for landscaping in the area. As a board member of the Lake View Terrace Improvement Association, he coordinated a grant of almost $5000 from California ReLeaf to plant 103 “environmentally tolerant, large-canopied, quality trees” in the parks and schools of Lake View Terrace in 1995. More than 20 years later, many of these trees are now mature, providing shade and other benefits for the community.

Klemm was involved with the Lake View Terrace Garden Club for six years, and coordinated the renovation of an ornamental garden at the intersection of Osborne Street and Foothill Boulevard. The goals of the garden renovation were to reduce water consumption and increase visual interest. The new plantings featured a much more efficient watering system, and drought-tolerant plants native to California and the Mediterranean, including species which are endangered or extinct in the wild. Sadly, this garden was not retained when the Discovery Cube was built.

Klemm has volunteered for the Theodore Payne Foundation in La Tuna Canyon, was a board member of the Verdugo/San Rafael Chapter of the Small Wilderness Area Preservation, and was active in renovation efforts at the Tujunga Ponds. He attended the TreePeople Citizen Forester class in the fall of 1994, and was involved with TreePeople through the four planting events of the California ReLeaf grant mentioned above.

After moving to Shadow Hills in 1996, Klemm renovated the entire yard of his house on Walnut Drive with mostly California native plants to create a more visually interesting alternative to a plain lawn. In addition, the new landscape has the benefits of lower maintenance and water needs, a key factor in landscaping with native plants. The hummingbirds and butterflies enjoy the new landscaping, too, as have visitors on the Theodore Payne Foundation’s native plant garden tours in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2017.

Roger Klemm, a Shadow Hills resident, works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena where he writes, integrates, tests and operates software for interplanetary spacecraft and space-based research experiments. He graduated from Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering in 1987. He is a member of the Sunland Tujunga Shadow Hills Rotary Club, and currently serves as the club president.

Life Saving Garden Strategies

DESIGNING FOR DISASTER: HOW TO MITIGATE FIRE, FLOOD AND SLIDE DANGERS

Date: Saturday, September 8, 2018

Time: 10:30-12 pm and 1-2:30 pm

Location: Descanso Gardens, Van de Kamp Hall

Tickets:  $15, Reserve First Panel, Reserve Second Panel

 

This multifaceted seminar, hosted by LA’s iconic Descanso Gardens, will explore the many ways in which our public landscapes and private gardens can mitigate or exacerbate LA’s potential natural disasters. The seminar will be comprised of two seminars, which can be taken together or as individual classes. Details follow.

FormLA2017_Couple_WOW_Farewell_Descanso-456-2MB

Mitigating LA’s Natural Disasters with Smart Landscape Choices

10:30-noon, Van de Kamp Hall

Seemingly unstoppable fires raged throughout the west in 2017, and California counted heavy losses in lives and property. Learn what combustible, invasive plant life to avoid, which plants have protective qualities, and which design strategies best protect homes from fire-wise landscape experts including:

 

From Tragedy of the Commons to Uncommon Fortune

1-2:30 pm, Van de Kamp Hall

Our minds often skip over the spaces between our public buildings and our roads, be they expanses of turf grass, weed-filled or paved medians. These places can be harnessed to increase LA’s resilience, mitigating our fire, flood and slide danger, and also increasing our neighborhoods’ social capital and home values.

Learn how to transform the tragedy of the commons into a powerful tool for building your neighborhood’s fortune. Our expert panel represents communities who have successfully transformed common spaces from the foothills to the beach, from the Valley to South LA. Expert panelists include:

Attendees will learn about the processes, people and resources it takes to transform community space, and the various models that have led to success.

Life Saving Garden Strategies

DESIGNING FOR DISASTER: HOW TO MITIGATE FIRE, FLOOD AND SLIDE DANGERS

Date: Saturday, September 8, 2018

Time: 10:30-12 pm and 1-2:30 pm

Location: Descanso Gardens, Van de Kamp Hall

Tickets:  $15, Reserve First Panel, Reserve Second Panel

 

This multifaceted seminar, hosted by LA’s iconic Descanso Gardens, will explore the many ways in which our public landscapes and private gardens can mitigate or exacerbate LA’s potential natural disasters. The seminar will be comprised of two seminars, which can be taken together or as individual classes. Details follow.

FormLA2017_Couple_WOW_Farewell_Descanso-456-2MB

Mitigating LA’s Natural Disasters with Smart Landscape Choices

10:30-noon, Van de Kamp Hall

Seemingly unstoppable fires raged throughout the west in 2017, and California counted heavy losses in lives and property. Learn what combustible, invasive plant life to avoid, which plants have protective qualities, and which design strategies best protect homes from fire-wise landscape experts including:

 

From Tragedy of the Commons to Uncommon Fortune

1-2:30 pm, Van de Kamp Hall

Our minds often skip over the spaces between our public buildings and our roads, be they expanses of turf grass, weed-filled or paved medians. These places can be harnessed to increase LA’s resilience, mitigating our fire, flood and slide danger, and also increasing our neighborhoods’ social capital and home values.

Learn how to transform the tragedy of the commons into a powerful tool for building your neighborhood’s fortune. Our expert panel represents communities who have successfully transformed common spaces from the foothills to the beach, from the Valley to South LA. Expert panelists include:

Attendees will learn about the processes, people and resources it takes to transform community space, and the various models that have led to success.

5 Year Anniversary Message

Wow, hard to believe it’s been 5 years since we renovated the landscape at the Sunland Welcome Nature Garden. Time flies! Enjoy the memories, it’s been quite a project!

This garden got its start as an off-handed comment in an email thread between community members, grew to collecting seeds and cuttings from our local trails and a propagation effort that necessitated a whole new approach to potting containers, and resulted in a few dozen community members taking part in a wholescale renovation of the community entrance garden.

It’s been five years since about 50 people got together to rip out the invasive exotic Fountain Grass that the City had planted a decade before, and install the local native plants that now support the local bees, birds, lizards, and hummingbirds, grace the site with authentic beauty, and do so with minimal supplemental irrigation.

 

In February of 2013, after a several-month-long process, we adopted this property from the City. In March of that year we replaced the plants in the majority of the garden. It was hard work removing the hundreds of mature Fountain Grass plants, some of them growing inbetween rocks that were cemented in place. The replacement plants were tiny, and almost invisible among the mulch, but they grew well, and within a few months some were already blooming. In the fall we planted the rest of the garden, and the flowers haven’t stopped – pretty much every day of the year, something is blooming!

In 2014 we adopted and planted the parcel across the street, having been inspired by the Wildflowering LA art project. This Wildflowering Annex, as we call it, has its own challenges, with a surplus of weeds and no irrigation. We solarized the slopes in the summer of 2014, planted the top bench in December, and the Buckwheats and Sages have performed admirably on rainfall alone. When we get some real rain in the winter, the wildflowers are pretty in the spring.

In 2015 we ran a crowdfunding campaign, which combined with a grant from the Metropolitan Water District, enabled us to install interpretive signage to explain the motivation behind the garden and inspire people to take the message home to their own gardens.

 

See current garden gallery

In 2017 we trimmed the trees and bigger shrubs to open up sight lines and make the garden less attractive to the local transients. After some struggles with one particularly belligerent person, the City’s homeless task force prevailed and things have been mostly quiet. A couple weeks ago we planted 75 little plants, filling in holes from plants that either hadn’t survived, or that we haven’t been able to propagate. While we were planting, the hummingbirds were serenading us. Ahh, music to our ears!

-roger

Why Not Fountain Grass?

California Native Plant Society, September 2012. By Roger Klemm: Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum) is a bunchgrass from Africa that is widely planted as an ornamental plant in portions of the United States with warm winters. It is a tough, vigorous plant that will tolerate adverse conditions of heat and drought. It does not appear to suffer from any pests or diseases, and many people appreciate its graceful seed heads produced in profusion over the spring and summer months.

The downside is that in California, Fountain Grass has no natural enemies and readily out-competes other plants. It is invasive, and if you plant it in your yard, you will soon have seedlings of Fountain Grass popping up wherever there is bare soil. It will even grow vigorously in the gaps between sections of concrete and bedrock of natural slopes. Its seeds are carried long distances in the wind, so if your neighbor has it in their yard, it will eventually end up in yours, and the nearby natural areas. If you are in a fire hazard area, it is especially dangerous, as it dries out early in the summer and becomes extremely flammable. Read More