Protect Community

Where Water and Wildfire Savings Meet

Bob Spears, lead volunteer on the the Louis Van Iersel Post Office landscape renovation, describes what it took to bring the fire defensive demonstration garden to life.

Spears and Jim Walsworth, both retired firefighters, dreamed of creating fire defensive demonstration garden. In 2021, they approached the Case Family, who leases their property to serve as a U.S. Post Office in Sierra Madre, to get permission to renovate the property’s outdoor space. With permission in place, they selected FormLA Landscaping to assist with the design and engaged the community to envision, fund and plant the space.


Fire Defensive Post Office Landscape

This expansive demonstration garden fills a corner lot and sees an abundance of foot traffic. It hosts four distinctive planting areas. Shade-loving foliage fills the spaces on Mariposa. The two areas that face Baldwin Avenue contain plants that enjoy full sun.

The gardens were designed by Isara Ongwiseth of FormLA Landscaping, funded by the community, and installed in collaboration with an abundance of community volunteers.

About the Project


  • Necessity: High and very high fire severity zones have expanded, as have requirements for fire defensive property management. Residents need models to follow.
  • Urgency: The water-restricted summer of 2022 reinforced the need for concerted water-saving efforts.
  • Hope: Sierra Madre residents have experience coming together to accomplish big things, including the creation of the Authentic Foothill Gardens at Sierra Madre City Hall.


  • Use a process that involves, informs, educates and inspires the community.
  • Create something relatable that can be replicated in the area’s residential gardens.
  • Fund the renovation without use of public resources.



  • Initiators: Bob Spears and Jim Walsworth retired fire fighters and residents
  • Property Owners: The Case Family owns the property and leases it to the U.S. Postal Service. Obtaining their consent and interest in the renovation was the first step.
  • Advisors: City Hall staff including the city manager, he head of public works, and the management analyst provided instructive insights; Sierra Madre Garden Club.
  • Contributors: Funders with San Gabriel Municipal Water District, designers and construction consultants with FormLA Landscaping, and regional Rainbird representatives.


  • Cost:
  • Expenses: Mulch, plants, educational signage, bench-building materials
  • Mitigation: 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.



  • Grants: San Gabriel Municipal Water District
  • Fundraisers: Sierra Madre Community Foundation served as a non-profit partner to receive and direct funds.
  • Community: Donations from residents and the property owners provided the majority of the funds needed.
  • In-Kind: 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.


  • Private Propery: Because the post office sits on leased private property, getting the owners’ permission was a necessary step. This was relatively simple, and the owners became great champions of the effort.
  • Weather: Installation occurred during the heavy rain season of 2022-2023 and inhibited participation in some of the more technical work, including irrigation and bioswale installation. The lead volunteers took up this work.
  • Early Aesthetics: Native foliage was planted small and placed to accommodate its full size. The sparse look concerned some until they learned it could be expected to be lush, leafy and still low maintenance in just 3 years.

Returns on Investment

  • Ongoing water and operational cost savings
  • Support for water independence
  • Community participation and collaboration
  • Community investment in the gardens’ success and the space
  • Greater understanding of new wildfire-related landscape regulations
  • Confidence in our water and aesthetic future

Strategies to Replicate

  • Intention to complete the renovation without use of public funds helped drivers stay ahead of potential community resentment, raise funds, and attract both in-kind contributions and volunteers.
  • Engaging the community in defining the garden’s aesthetic and impacts boosted curiosity and any inconvenience caused by the renovation.
  • Human interest stories and supportive articles in the local paper also boosted support.
  • Garden signage and plant IDs optimize the educational value of the gardens and encourage patronage.


  • November 2021 – Proposal. Drivers reach out to the property owners.
  • May 2022 – Community Visioning. Designers and community discuss concepts.
  • August 2022 – Designers present designs for community consideration.
  • November 2022 – Irrigation Installation. Lead volunteers install irrigation. Lead volunteers and landscapers host event discussing irrigation installation.
  • January 2023 – Bioswale Installation. Lead volunteers install bioswale. Lead volunteers and landscapers host educational event showcasing the bioswale substructure.
  • December 2023 – Planting Day.  Plants are placed by designers and installed by an abundance of community volunteers.
  • April 2023 – Ribbon Cutting. Representative Judy Chu joins the formal opening of the garden.

Related Plant Palettes
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