From designing rain gardens to planning and planting a green roof, Lisa King puts the environmental concepts of conservation into practice.
For Lisa King, landscape architect with Metro Parks, Serving Summit County, Ohio, going green is more than a catch phrase; it is a theme incorporated into everything she does. From designing rain gardens to planning and planting a green roof, King puts the environmental concepts of conservation into practice.
At the recently renovated green building in Sand Run Metro Park in Akron, Ohio, which serves as office space for park rangers and managers, cutting-edge green technology and materials have been incorporated into the design, both indoors and out. Lights turn on and off automatically, responding to movement in and out of rooms. Earth-friendly building materials include bamboo flooring, countertops made of recycled newspaper and bricks made from regional clay sources. From composting toilets to solar inverters, the Metro Parks building was designed to maximize efficiency and minimize use of natural resources.
One of the goals of the property design is to keep rainwater on the site. To this aim, the building has no down spouts. Instead, water runs down decorative copper rain chains, into either rain barrels or clay crocks that drain into a rain garden. The rain garden was constructed to temporarily collect run-off in a dug-out reservoir, which was then planted with native trees, grasses and perennials.
Water can slowly percolate through the rain garden deep into soil layers. These plants, including pawpaw trees, royal fern and lobelia, are all adapted to survive in the moist shade of the property's side yard, and once established, will tolerate fluctuating moisture levels between storms.
To reduce mowing and prevent problems indoors with insect invaders, an area 4 feet in width around the building has been covered with smooth stones. By keeping plants, mulch and soil away from the foundation, insects and spiders are less likely to find their way to the interior.
A narrow mowing strip surrounds the house after the stone border, providing the neat, calming look of turf but with minimal energy and chemical input. Most of the yard is planted with a naturalizing seed mix, made up of lower-growing grasses and flowers that don't need mowing.
One of the most innovative aspects of the building is the green roof and associated living wall. In the last 10 years, interest in green roofs has grown in the United States as we catch up with planted roof concepts from Europe and Japan. Planted roofs are now used in public and private buildings, most notably in New York, Toronto and Chicago.
A green roof is a carefully lined and supported roof with six inches or so of planting mix over a drainage layer. Because the planted roof can have substantial weight, the planting layer is shallow and light. Shallow-rooted, drought- and sun-tolerant plants grow on the roof surface.
The benefits of green roofs are numerous, including reduced drainage and increased insulation. They also provide wildlife habitat, and have aesthetic appeal. Interestingly, studies show that office buildings with windows that look out on a green roof see increased worker productivity, so the benefits of green roofs extend to humans as well.
What plants will grow on a green roof? Native and non-native sedums are frequently planted, because they are tough plants that can tolerate harsh conditions. For the Metro Parks green roof, King selected a mixed planting with about 75 percent sedum, interplanted with coneflowers, penstemon and butterfly weed. Because the roof planting grows many species, the bloom and leaf colors change through the season, providing textural and color interest.
To further save energy, a living wall on the west-facing side of the building is covered with trumpet creeper. In summer, this deciduous vine shades the building to reduce indoor temperatures, while in winter, the vine stands naked to allow the afternoon sun to warm the structure.
The recent surge in energy prices has brought sharp focus to the use and conservation of our native resources, coinciding perfectly with the release of several books about rain gardens, living walls and green roof plants. These cutting-edge techniques will probably become more common in the future.
With the local example of innovative, sustainable structures that work, Metro Parks has forged the way for others to learn and adopt new practices. How fitting that all of King's e-mails end with the motto: Go green, and others will follow.