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January 2005

Horticulture Therapy:
Rooftop Garden Creates An Oasis For Wellness & Rehabilitation

By Ed Jarger, Regional Greenroof Product Manager
All Photos Courtesy American Hydrotech

Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital's Intensive Greenroof in Chicago, Illinois

Chicago’s Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital has added a 10,000 square foot rooftop park & garden for horticultural therapy – a process in which plants and gardening activities are used to improve body, mind and spirit. Innovative design, lush landscaping, well-engineered waterproofing and soil-support elements combine to make this fourth story rooftop a very safe and special place.

Horticultural Therapy
Horticultural therapy is widely recognized as a practical and viable treatment with wide-ranging benefits for people in therapeutic and wellness programs. The American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) defines horticultural therapy as: “A discipline that uses plants, gardening activities and the natural world as vehicles for professionally conducted programs in therapy and rehabilitation.”

Although horticulture therapy may be a viable treatment method, finding or recreating the “natural world” in dense urban areas is not a simple task, and especially difficult in the Lawndale community on the West side of Chicago, where Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital is located. Schwab, a member of the Sinai Health System, is a 125-bed comprehensive physical medicine and rehabilitation facility that helps adult and pediatric patients achieve maximum independence. The first accredited rehabilitation hospital in the Midwest, Schwab treats more than 1,800 inpatients each year. Patients needing acute rehabilitation come to the hospital to learn firsthand how to recover their strength and learn new skills. Although it had not been available at the hospital, the Schwab staff had long been aware of the many benefits of Horticulture Therapy, according to Brenda Koverman, director of inpatient therapy.

Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital Project, Courtesy Ed Jarger Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital Project, Courtesy Ed Jarger

Soft, green, flowering walkways grace the Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital greenroof

“Patients are here to regain physical and mental control of their bodies, which have been lost as a result of stroke, vehicular accident or other major trauma such as violent crime. With horticulture therapy, patients can increase both cognitive and physical functioning.”  The hospital determined that the creation of a rooftop garden was the best solution for providing real life skills practice for its patients -- without having to leave the security of the hospital. In 2001, Schwab contracted landscape architecture firm Douglas Hills Associates, Inc. to prepare a concept master plan for a therapeutic rooftop park and gardens. But because the hospital was also in the final completion stage of a $23 million, multi-phased building addition/renovation project, this ultimately left little funds available for the green roof.

Through activism initiated by the landscape architect, however, a lush garden on Schwab’s rooftop was made a reality. The firm discovered special opportunities were available through the City of Chicago’s Department of the Environment, which was issuing green roof grants under its Urban Heat Island Reduction Initiative. This initiative was founded to support and promote the utilization, develop-ment and expansion of 'green' technologies that will mitigate the urban heat island effect and beautify Chicago through the installation of green roofs and painting or installing light colored roofs. The landscape architect informed Schwab administration and staff of the grant opportunity, offered to assist them in pursuing it, and explained the time-consuming procedures involved. The firm also offered to underwrite a portion of the grant proposal development because it wanted to see the project come to fruition.

“Suddenly, from our activism and sense of wanting to run with it, the people at Schwab became very enthused about the project,” says Douglas Hills, Douglas Hills Associates, Inc. “And, the city saw it as a very beneficial, high profile application for the use of its funds.” The hospital received a $400,000 grant for its rooftop park and gardens project and construction began in early 2003.

Schwab’s new rooftop park and gardens are made up of a distinct series of places that allow patients the freedom of movement and access while maintaining a high level of safety. Prior to initiating the project, the 10,000 square foot rooftop consisted simply of a stone ballasted roof, as well as a concrete basketball half court.

Because the building was designed to support an additional floor for potential future expansion, there were no structural issues regarding the 50-78 lbs per square foot load the green roof would add. The building’s existing rooftop drainage system was also deemed sufficient for the project.

Ample walkways and lush greenery

Schwab’s new greenrooftop park and gardens

Waterproofing & Garden Roof Assembly
The green roof consists of a waterproofing membrane, insulation, and drainage/moisture retention elements, which are part of a total assembly (see figure 1), all supplied by American Hydrotech, Inc. The building’s original roofing contractor, E.W. Olson Roofing, was selected as the general contractor for Schwab’s new green roof project.

The watertight integrity of the waterproofing membrane is essential to the long-term success of the project. The seamless waterproofing membrane used for the green roof project, Monolithic Membrane 6125® (MM6125), is a hot fluid-applied, rubberized asphalt that forms a long-lasting, tenacious bond to the substrate that can withstand and perform in submersed water conditions.

The existing building’s five-year-old roof membrane (also MM6125) was enhanced with a second, reinforced application of of the material. While still hot, Hydroflex® 30, a fiberglass reinforced, rubberized asphalt protection sheet was embedded into the membrane to complete the waterproofing assembly. A polyethylene sheet, Root Stop WSF40®, was then rolled out over the assembly as a root barrier.

Over the root barrier, the roof’s existing STYROFOAM® closed cell, extruded polystyrene was reapplied to provide the required thermal value. The material’s excellent moisture resistance, high compressive strength and in this instance, the ability to be reused, provided this project many benefits.

One of the most significant components of the garden roof assembly is the water retention/drainage/ aeration element. The element, Floradrain® 25, is comprised of lightweight panels of 100% recycled polyethylene, molded into specially designed retention cups and drainage channels. The design allows for the free drainage of excess water, achieving flow rates significantly higher than that of conventional drainage methods while simultaneously promoting irrigation through capillary action and evaporation into the soil/vegetation level. Lastly, a geotextile filter sheet, Systemfilter® SF, was unrolled over the entire drainage/water storage/aeration layer. Made of non-woven polypropylene fibers, the filter sheet helps prevent the loss of soil, mulch and plant debris while allowing for the flow of moisture.

Following the installation of all components of the soil support assembly, the planting medium was put down along with a drip irrigation system. While the heart of the green roof is the drainage/water retention elements, the most critical part of any green roof system is the soil, which must provide a stable structure for the anchorage of the plants' root system while remaining as lightweight as possible to prevent excess loading of the roof structure. The mix used for the Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital project was a custom blend based on German FLL standards, consisting of a lightweight expanded clay aggregate, Canadian Sphagnum peat moss, compost, sand, and nutrient supplements.

Restoring the Properties of Nature with a Therapeutic Rooftop Garden

Landscape Design: Safe & Engaging
The hospital consulted with the Director of Horticultural Services of the Chicago Botanical Gardens, Gene Rothart, who is an expert in horticultural therapy programs. Rothart provided guidance regarding the design of the Schwab rooftop park and gardens as well as outlined various programming aspects with hospital staff and administrators.  “We wanted the gardens to be a useful space that is an extension of what we can do within our facility, and offer people places to go outside that are both safe and engaging,” says Schwab’s Brenda Koverman.

“From a programmatic standpoint, we wanted it to be a beautiful space that relieves tension and provides the restorative properties of nature. We also wanted a place that would work well for our staff to conduct special therapy programs, where people could start to heal without feeling like they were being encumbered.”  The final landscape design for the project incorporates four primary areas with walkways within the garden structure, providing places for gathering and solitude, for working and resting, for visiting and observing, and playing and learning … all designed to support the well-being of patients.

One area, called Parkside, incorporates a children’s area with play equipment, sensory garden and place for families to gather. “Here we used perimeter planting walls and planters, a vine-draped trellis, raised lawn, a butterfly garden, as well as plantings and ornamental fencing along the existing parapet wall to create a secure area with active and quiet zones,” says Hills.

The Lakeside area of the green roof includes a waterfall garden, a 60 ft. stream, and ornamental fencing on the existing parapet wall. “This part of the garden is a safe area to explore, play and rest surrounded by sweeping drifts of ornamental grasses and a small grove of ornamental shrubs,” says Hills.
The rooftop area called Southside completes the walkway circuit and features an overhead shade pergola, large planters with ornamental trees, and raised beds for vegetables and herbs and a border of meadow planting. The roof’s central area still maintains the basketball half court, but now also includes a working garden utilizing raised beds and containers, and an area with planters and outdoor furniture for group activities.

A Midwestern Garden
When developing the plantings list for the rooftop gardens, it was important that the selections were compatible with very sunny, exposed conditions. Another planting constraint inherent to the green roof site was its relatively shallow soils (12-to-18 inches). “We wanted to make it feel like a Midwestern garden and play up the sense of seasonal interest and variety throughout the year. With this in mind, we created a sequence of color from spring to summer, summer to fall, fall to winter, and back to spring,” says Hills. “It was important to create multiple sensory-stimulation environments, with plants selected for fragrance, texture, and color.”

Early spring-blooming plants include Irises, Campanula, Flax and other plants that feature attractive colors that go well together – in shades of blue, yellow, and pink. “We positioned all plantings in relationship to where people are, so there’s a bit of hierarchy -- low plants are towards the front of the border and medium to higher plants are nearer to the back. These varied heights create more interest, as opposed to that of a flat-looking planting.”

In the summer, Daylilies, Cone Flowers, Russian Sage, Butterfly Bush, and Latria are in bloom. “These are very colorful and interesting plants – but they were not chosen just for color, but also for texture, and for their form and shape,” says Hills. Fall selections include Aster as well as Sumac. Incorporated throughout these plantings are grasses such as Bunny Fountain and Little Blue Stem, which go to seed and appear most interesting in the fall and winter.  Although Schwab’s green room isn’t a high profile winter garden, the designers still wanted the area to look presentable during this period. “The ornamental grasses stand up all winter,” says Hills. “Plus, many of the perennials, depending upon snowfall, give the appearance of dried flower arrangements, providing some mass during the winter.”

A Midwestern Greenroof Garden and Walkway

Flowing intensive hospital greenroof perimeter walkways beckon patients, staff, visitors and plants.

“Cool” Walkways
An integral component of the Schwab project is the walkways that flow around the garden perimeter, which are wide and gently graded for wheelchair accessibi-lity. In addition to providing safe, aesthetically pleasing paths for patients, staff and visitors, the selection of surface material for the walkways was important for the project to qualify for Chicago’s Urban Heat Island Reduction Initiative Grant.

Portions of the roof area not covered with plantings must meet stringent roof reflectance provisions. Hydrotech Ultimate Assembly® architectural paver systems were used for the walkways to meet these provisions. The two-foot by two-foot Terra Pavers-H® “Cool Pavers” were installed in an open joint assembly. The use of light and reflective pavers helps to significantly lower rooftop heat. In addition, the open joint system facilitates the flow of water from the paver surface to concealed drains, allowing for water to drain below the wearing surface rather than pond on it, eliminating the likelihood of dangerous pedestrian conditions.

Today: Achieving Goals/Facing Challenges
Schwab’s Brenda Koverman reports that the rooftop garden is today providing a safe and familiar place where patients, family, and staff can work to achieve goals and face the challenges encountered during extensive rehabilitation. “The therapists that work at Schwab -- occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech/language pathologists, psychologists, recreational therapists -- all use the rooftop gardens. Horticultural therapy will soon be a year-round program, working in concert with other therapeutic activities through sensory stimulation.”

Koverman says that physical therapy conducted in the rooftop setting is helping patients in ambulation and wheelchair mobility on different terrains. “And, speech and language pathologists are using the environmental setting to work on orientation and language as the patients maneuver through the park and garden. The space is also being used for memory skills, problem-solving, and pathfinding. Plus, simply working in the garden helps to develop standing balance and build hand strength.”

Douglas Hills says that although his firm has helped numerous healthcare institutions create supportive outdoor places that respond to the needs of patients, staff and families, the Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital project has been an especially satisfying experience.

“We are all dealing with the almighty dollar, trying to make a living, but we also want to design special projects that are highly challenging from a creative standpoint – and the two don’t always seem to fit together. However, when you have both vision and opportunity,” he says, referring to finding the opportunity for grant money, “sometimes all these needs can be satisfied. But if you don’t have a sense of vision or work on a speculative basis to some degree, these special projects most times simply won’t happen.”

Ed Jarger is Central Regional Manager for American Hydrotech, Inc., in Chicago, IL.

American Hydrotech is the global leader in the development of waterproofing and roofing technology, and is considered a single source supplier of greenroof systems.  Developed by Hydrotech in conjunction with ZinCo GmbH of Germany, the Garden Roof® assembly is backed by over 35 years of combined experience in premium waterproofing and green roof technologies.

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