Sunland Nature Garden’s Roger Klemm

Meet a hero saving LA one weekend at a time

We believe Angelinos can change the world by changing our backyards. What still takes our breath away is the difference we can make together when we extend our definitions of “our backyard.”

Newark Mayor Cory Booker often speaks of a man who spent his stimulus check on a mower. He began mowing a vacant lot near his high-rise home where drug dealers were known to congregate. The drug dealers stopped coming. The man then extended his backyard to include the median of his street, mowing it as well.

Booker came across the man as he mowed the median and stopped to ask why he was mowing public property. He said simply, “This is my street. I am responsible.”

Year after year, we see more and more Angelinos, from one end of the city to another, refusing to allow tragedy in our common backyards. The homeowners of Brentwood’s Mandeville Canyon Association, for example, inspired us with a reverse-NIMBY! They actively prioritized the creation of safe space for visiting hikers and bikers when landscaping the shoulder of the canyon. Likewise, the ladies of La Canada Valley Beautiful, who put both muscle and money into creating divinely beautiful and sustainable community spaces, are well known to you as our muses.

This month, we have yet another hero to introduce to you. After years of community activism, Roger Klem, a Sunland resident and native plant enthusiast, has inspired the community Sunland to undo a tragedy in its common backyard.

Each Saturday of March 2013, residents and volunteers will dig, rake, trim, wheel and water to create a Sunland Welcome Nature Garden at the entrance to the community from the 210 freeway, now a safe haven for invasive fountain grass. The garden will transform into a showcase of natives born to thrive in Sunland’s particularly high and dry microclimate.

Roger’s work is bringing so much more than a pretty face to the community of Sunland. This hero with a hoe, this prince with a pick-axe is literally saving his neighbors from fire, floods, slides, and pestilence. Yes, we are serious!

The fountain grass recently removed from the garden space produces abundant seed heads. The seeds travel into our wild spaces, where the grass thrives, and replaces deep-rooted native shrubs with its shallow roots. It then dries out earlier in the dry season, becoming combustible and contributing to a longer and more damaging fire season. The more damaging the fire, the more vulnerable our slopes are when rainy season comes.

Community hero Roger Klemm dedicates the garden.

Community hero Roger Klemm dedicates the garden.

Fire, and the slides that tend to follow with rain, are the logical result of our seemingly simple, common choices. When Roger took responsibility for the Sunland garden, he took the first step in changing the fabric of life in our community. He now has an army of volunteers, including many from FormLA, helping him change a cycle often called “inevitable.”

Thank you to all of you who, like Roger, walk down the street and see ways to protect, connect and beautify LA. Pick up your shovels – we are behind you!