By Michael J. ARVIZU
On a small, seemingly barren plot of land next to the Foothill (210) Freeway in Sunland, at the intersection of Fenwick Street and Sunland Boulevard, a group of local residents gathered on Saturday morning to inaugurate the town’s first Sunland Welcome Nature Garden.
Located on the northwest corner of the intersection opposite a busy strip mall, the garden is a grassroots effort, residents say, to improve the visual quality of an area dominated by concrete, rocks, weeds and asphalt.
The project began in 2011 when residents Roger Klemm and Ricky Grubb considered opening a native plant garden in the hopes of replacing the city-installed invasive and nonnative fountain grass growing on the site. The nonnative grass also had the potential to increase the fire danger in the surrounding area, Klemm said.
The goal of the project, Klemm said, is “to take the plants that are in our local wild areas, invite them into our community, and basically develop this as a showcase of our native plants.”
A self-described “plant geek,” Klemm began the project by surveying local plant life to determine what would be most appropriate for the garden. With permission from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, he proceeded to take seeds and cuttings from sources in the Verdugo Mountains, Tujunga Wash, San Gabriel Mountains and even areas along the 210 Freeway.
The blueprints for the garden were drawn up by Tujunga-based FormLA Landscaping, which volunteered its time to assist on the project. And due to the garden’s vicinity to the 210 Freeway, permits to build the garden were obtained from the City of Los Angeles’ Adopt-A-Median program.
“Basically, we, the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council, have taken ownership of this plot of land,” said Klemm. “It’s ours now.”
So that the plants will acclimate well to their environment, they will be planted as seedlings. The plot of land the garden sits on is roughly 15,000 square feet in size and will house buckwheat, white and black sage, wooly blue curls, toyon, sugar bush, and ceanothus plants, among 50 other native plant types, said Klemm. The plants will require very little water, and the garden’s irrigation system will only have to be switched on once or twice a year. Rainfall will do the rest.
“This will be an educational garden,” said Katarina Eriksson, maintenance manager at FormLA Landscaping. “Once the plants are established, hopefully we can have nameplates or a key that people can come and look at and say, ‘Oh, I like that plant. What is it?’”
Native plant species also help preserve the local ecosystem by allowing native insect and animal species to flourish, Klemm said.
“The native plants support native insects and, therefore, the rest of the food chain,” he said. “Where you have native plants, you have native insects; where you have native insects, you have native birds and lizards. The fountain grass that we replaced was one of those that screws up the local ecosystem.”
At first glance, it appears that nothing is growing on the site. That will change, however, in the next few months as the plants begin to sprout. Further planting will take place in October and November.
“As far as the local ecosystem, it has such a great impact that we’re just blind to on a daily basis,” said Stephanie Reed, associate designer at FormLA.
For now, small yellow flags mark the location of young plants. As the garden grows, volunteers will be busy keeping the weeds at bay, said Klemm.
“This can provide support to demonstrate that if a community is involved, they can do amazing things,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcón, who helped open the garden on Saturday. “The city could not manage this property effectively. I think it is better when the community does it anyway. They do it in a way that’s more consistent with the history of this community. The characteristics of the community are reflective in this.”
The garden also features a cobblestone sign located on its southeast corner welcoming motorists to Sunland-Tujunga. The sign will be updated with a tile mosaic created by McGroarty Arts Center in Tujunga. The mosaic will display the official seal of the city of Los Angeles and will welcome visitors to the “Showplace of the Chaparral.”
“By next spring, it should be obvious that there’s stuff planted here,” said Klemm. “There are a couple of plants that have literally more than doubled in size since we planted them two months ago.”