In Memoriam: Ernie Higgins of ItSaul Natural

January 10, 2013 at 3:34 pm

It is with a heavy heart that we share the news of the passing of our dear friend and colleague, Ernie Higgins.  He died quietly at his home in north Georgia with family on December 25, 2012 of a heart attack.

I’ve known Ernie for almost 12 years, introduced by Bobby Saul of Saul Nurseries and Ernie’s co-partner in ItSaul Natural, located in  Dahlonega, GA.

Everyone who knew Ernie liked him!  You just couldn’t help it – he was always smiling, always in a good mood, and always saw the good in others and in the world. After having survived heart surgery several years ago, his zest for life was even more enhanced, if possible.

Ernie was a passionate soul about many issues, in particular creating the highest quality engineered soils – never “dirt” or anything with bio-solids.  ItSaul Natural, LLC is a soil company that came into the Saul business fold in the early 1990s when Bobby and Richard Saul partnered with Ernie Higgins, the original founder of what was then a small hen manure compost company.

The new company was named ItSaul Natural and developed a line of organic soil products under the name ‘Mr. Natural.’  These  engineered soils are available  for greenroofs and greenwalls and other  bio-retention media for LID techniques; structural soils for urban trees, turf and fire lanes; and these landscaping soil mixes:  PermaTill Soil Conditioner, Mr. Natural Complete Landscape Mix (CLM), Mr. Natural Woodland Soil Mix, Mr. Natural Hen Manure Compost, and Mr. Natural Worm Castings.

He was quite the activist, championing many environmental and social causes in the landscape industry and beyond.  He also was happy to share his knowledge with many others along the way.  Here’s he’s giving an intimate lecture to folks at the Habersham Gardens:

He was also extremely proud of many of the projects on which he worked, in particular the Atlanta City Hall Pilot Greenroof  and especially the  William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, AR.

In 2003  Atlanta’s $60,000 greenroof project was sponsored by the city’s Department of Watershed Management as a tool for improving air quality and for reducing stormwater runoff.  When it opened in 2004, the $165 million William J. Clinton Presidential Library complex earned a Silver LEED rating – the first presidential library to do so, and in early November, 2007, it received Platinum certification for existing buildings (LEED-EB) from the USGBC.  Saul Nursery and ItSaul Natural provided plants and engineered soil for both vegetated roofs.

Ernie also loved nature and parties with music with his friends at his farm!  I’m sorry to say we were never able to make it up there to share in the festivities:

Aramis and I spent lots of fun times with Ernie  at various happenings here in Atlanta and at  CitiesAlive Conference events in Atlanta, Vancouver, B.C., Philadelphia, and  most recently Chicago.  Here he is with Aramis and Janet Faust of JDR Enterprises in Philly in 2011:

Ernie will be sorely missed by so many people and we send our heartfelt  condolences to his  wife of 18 years, Chris Pepper, and all of  his family.  Here are Chris and Ernie at pal Bill Brigham and Beate Allio’s Greenroof Wedding in May, 2010:

Here are what some of his friends have to say about the wonderful Ernie Higgins:

“Ernie got an early start in the organic movement and was way ahead of his time.  For 26 years Ernie stayed with the business he loved, composting and blending organic planting soils when few recognized their importance.  Those who knew the man saw an endless determination to succeed, a master blender, a logistics genius and a salesman  extraordinaire.” ~ Business Partner Bobby Saul of ItSaul Natural

“Where do I begin? I still remember when and where Ernie first called me on the phone eighteen years ago. Like Ernie, I have many friends, however only a handful can I really call true best friends and Ernie is and always will be one of them. It got to the point where we were like two teenage girls having to speak to each other on the phone at least once a day. The value of those “end of day phone calls” was not the business we had to conduct but how the calls would transform. No matter how stressed we were that day or what had gone wrong at work the calls ended up having both of us laughing uncontrollably into the phone, time would get away from us and we would end up being late for dinner. Not a bad way to end the work day. I’m glad we didn’t get into texting; LOL just doesn’t have the same effect as the real thing. I’m grateful I made that last call before I left the country for my Christmas vacation.

I can say that all the times Ernie and I have spent together were very special to me and I feel that knowing him has enhanced my life greatly. I will miss him terribly and mostly around quitting time when I will feel the need to pick up the phone for a few laughs at the end of the day.” ~ Chuck Friedrich, RLA, GRP, Carolina Stalite Company

“Ernie Higgins was a man of wonderful contradictions.  Homespun but intellectual; soft spoken but intense; relaxed but hard working which shows how he found a balance in life and work that few find.  His spirit will be missed around the green roof circles and all his other social circles as well.” ~ Ed Snodgrass, Emory Knoll Farms/Green Roof Plants

“I first met Ernie while working on the ATL City Hall greenroof, from day one he was my new best friend.  He treated everyone kindly, with respect but with just a little ribbing humor.  A southern gentleman who always greeted you with a big grin and warm hug.  Wow, what a void he’s going to leave in the industry.

He and I were on the same flight coming home from Chicago (last October after CitiesAlive).  We sat and chatted the whole way home and continued on MARTA to our designated stops.  He never lacked in conversation and was always engaged to know you better.  He had my back so many times I can’t even count.  I regularly got random phone calls from people who would start the conversation “˜I was just talking with Ernie, and he says I should call you”¦’; a great team player.  I always wondered how he was privy to so many projects; I think because he knew everyone and everyone knew him and everyone liked and trusted him.  A very loyal person to call friend; a real diamond in the rough.” ~ Janet Faust, JDR Enterprises

Here’s Ernie, pre-ponytail, in green at the  Atlanta City Hall Greenroof Dedication in April, 2004.  Note his colleagues to his left: Bill  Brigham, City of Atlanta  Landscape  Architect in dark blue plaid, and ItSaul Natural partner Bobby Saul in white plaid.

“Ernie was a true Champion in the Green industry and without his knowledge, expertise and professional guidance, the Atlanta City Hall Greenroof would not be the success that it is day.  Ernie touched so many lives in the industry and will be deeply missed.  We now have a void both in our hearts and in our profession that will take a long time (if ever) to fill…” ~ Bill Brigham,  Principal Landscape Architect/Proj. Manager, Bureau of Watershed Protection,  Dept. of Watershed Management, City of Atlanta

“Ernie was always the brightest smile in any room he was in. He was a major influence on me and my decision to enter into the world of Green Roofing. And with that, he shared his bliss and made it mine, too. “  ~ Mary Ann Uhlmann, Tremco

Close friend Chuck Friedrich has shared the following with us:

Earnest “Ernie” Whatley Higgins of Gainesville, Georgia, died quickly of a heart attack at home the evening of Tuesday, December 25, 2012.  Ernie is survived by his wife, Chris Pepper; his mother, Jane Betts Higgins; his sister Betty Daniel; his brother Carl Higgins; stepdaughters Julie Sevadjian and Sara Tacket; nieces, nephews, in-laws, and a multitude of friends and close acquaintances.

Ernie was born in Rome, Georgia, March 26, 1943.  Ernie attended Darlington Academy in Rome, Georgia followed by a period at Auburn University.  After returning to Georgia from Dallas in 1988, Ernie conceived and created what would become Mr. Natural organic compost and potting soil utilizing the tons of hen manure generated in the broiler houses at the chicken farm.  Ernie leased land near Dawsonville, GA, and created a manufacturing and bagging facility he affectionately knick-named “Dookie Hill.”  In the early 1990’s Ernie partnered with Bobby and Richard Saul of Saul Nurseries to create a new company named ItSaul Natural, LLC.  ItSaul Natural, LLC, has become a leader in organic soil, engineered soil, and green roof growing media technology.  Some of their green roof projects include: Clinton Presidential Library, Little Rock, AR; Bridge Street Parking Decks, Huntsville, AL; Renaissance Park Pavilion, Chattanooga, TN; High Museum at Woodruff Arts Center, Atlanta, GA; and Atlanta City Hall, Atlanta, GA, and many more.  Ernie was a member of the Southern Nursery Association, Urban Ag Council, GGIA- Georgia Green Industry Association, and Green Roofs for Healthy Cities.

In 1994 he married Chris Pepper on 70 acres tucked into a bend of the West Fork of the Little River at the end of Butler Road- just South of Quillian’s Corners and Clermont, GA.  Ernie and Chris later purchased that land and have generously shared their property with friends and family on a regular basis.  Ernie Higgins never met a stranger and perhaps his greatest delight in the world was bringing his friends and family together for a good time.  He enjoyed making connections with people and seeing people connect.  He loved to learn, to hear stories, to tell stories, to listen to good music, and to help anything grow.  At just shy of 70 years old Ernie had more kid-like zest for life than many of us have ever known.  As Angus says, Ernie was a “special, unique, crazy and wonderful hippy.”  Ernie will live on in the hearts and minds of his family and friends.

“Ernie got an early start in the organic movement and was way ahead of his time,” said one of  his partners, Bobby Saul of Atlanta.  “For 26 years Ernie stayed with the business he loved, composting and blending organic planting soils when few recognized their importance,” Saul said.  “Those who knew the man saw an endless determination to succeed, a master blender, a logistics genius and a salesman  extraordinaire.”

A memorial will be held in the Ed Cabell Theatre at the University of North Georgia (Gainesville State College), in Gainesville, Saturday, January 19, 2013 at 2:00 PM. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Smithgall Woodland Botanical Garden- contact Rebekka Kuntschik- and/or the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia, 845 West Ridge Road, Gainesville, GA 30501.  Cards and correspondence may be sent to P.O. Box 434 Murrayville, GA 30564.”

Aslo read the “Ernie Higgins, 69: Made organic soils, wonderful wines”  obituary from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution by  J.E. Geshwiler.

Remember the part of how  Ernie Higgins never met a stranger?  Here’s proof – the photo below shows him at a CitiesAlive after-party in Philadelphia 2011 with Chilean Ignacio Espoz of Latin Green who had just met Ernie about 10 minutes prior, introduced by me:

If you’d like to share your thoughts and memories, please respond to my post or send me any quotes (and/or photos) at

We’ll miss your ponytail,  kind smile, and hearty laugh, Ernie!  You will certainly never be forgotten, always remembered as the happy person and gentle soul that you are.

~ Linda V.’s “This Week in Review” on GreenroofsTV: June 22, 2012

June 23, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Each week you can expect to learn What’s New here on through our “This Week in Review” video.  Here is the transcript from June 22, 2012 from our daughter, Anjuli – click on the photo below to see the video, or here.  Enjoy!

– Hello, I’m Anjuli Velázquez and welcome to “This Week in Review” for June 22nd, 2012 on GreenroofsTV.

Project of the Week

–  Our project of the week is the  Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center, built in 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  The former site of Atlanta’s most popular retailer throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries, the iconic Rich’s Department Store, the present Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center serves as the home of several federal agencies and is one of the city’s most environmentally friendly facilities.  The high-rise building of the Center houses a forested courtyard with a stand of approximately 50 maple trees, flowering cherry trees, and various other deciduous species, as well as native drought-resistant vegetation and paths of semi-pervious concrete pavers.

Utilizing American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, the $2.6 million project renovation’s goals, consistent with the General Services Administration’s roofing program, were to provide thermal and moisture protection; conserve energy and the environment; reduce utility costs; and help attain energy security by meeting Energy Independence and Security Act requirements.  In 2011 the Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center received the inaugural RoofPoint™ Award from the Center of Environmental Innovation in Roofing for “Excellence in Life Cycle Management,” distinguished by its efficient re-use of original roofing materials, and it has received other awards, too.

The two vegetated roofs are beautiful highlights of the buildings, with more than 198,000 colorful sedums, delospermas, native cacti, alliums and more from Saul Nurseries.  They were planted 3 plugs per square foot and are set in 4 inches of growing media from ItSaul Natural in a planting plan designed by Tremco Roofing’s Mary Ann Uhlmann.

– To learn more about the Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center,  click on our project of the week photo on our homepage (or on the above photos).

What’s New

Greenroofs & Walls of the World™ Virtual Summit 2011 Video

– Watch our Greenroofs & Walls of the World™ Virtual Summit 2011  Episode #28:  “The Green Bronx Machine”  by Steve Ritz.

And find the rest of the videos in this series on our GreenroofsTV page and/or our greenroofsTV YouTube channel.

Industry News

– A three-bill package sponsored by New Jersey Assembly Democrats Ruben Ramos, Jr., John McKeon, Wayne DeAngelo, and Connie Wagner, which is designed to encourage the proliferation of environmentally-friendly buildings, has been approved.

–  Sky Gardens Blog

– Over at Sky Gardens, check out Linda’s latest posts:  “Greenroofs & Walls of the World™ Virtual Summit 2011 Episode 28: The Green Bronx Machine,” “Greenroofed Sam Nunn Federal Center Dedicated in Atlanta!,” and “’s “˜This Week in Review’ on GreenroofsTV: June 15, 2012.”

– “Upcoming Events“

– June 24th-27th: is the Western Roofing Expo 2012 in Las Vegas, NV.

– “In the News“

–  Charles A. Birnbaum of the Huffington Post talks about “The Real High Line Effect — A Transformational Triumph of Preservation and Design.”  New York’s High Line, the stretch of abandoned elevated railroad on New York’s West Side that has been transformed into a public park and one of the city’s most popular destinations, has generated a lot of buzz about the so-called “High Line effect.”  Several cities are looking at their own forgotten areas, trying to figure out how they too can transform them into environmentally-friendly spaces.  The High Line was made possible by a team of landscape architects, architects, horticulturalists, engineers and others, led by James Corner Field Operations, and they were able to keep historic preservation and design.

By the way, the High Line isn’t the only successful “adaptive reuse” approach that works; San Francisco’s Crissy Field was an asphalt airfield and now is a “must-go-to destination that connects San Franciscans with their industrial waterfront heritage while restoring and conserving its natural and ecological values.”

Other projects include the 36-acre Point State Park in Pittsburgh, Tampa’s NationsBank Plaza, designed in the 1980s by Dan Kiley and now known as Kiley Garden, and Philip Johnson’s Water Garden in Fort Worth, Texas.  Landscape architect Laurie Olin suggests that when thinking about changes to an urban landscape that has a history, the conversation should address what stays and what goes and the virtues of bringing something new or an addition to an existing site.

–  Rachel Nuwer of says, “Eating on a Green Roof: New York’s Buildings Provide Food, Habitat for Wildlife.”  She says, “New York’s green roofs do more than add a splash of green to the urban habitat.  They also provide a crucial stopping ground and habitat for birds flying through.

Researcher Dustin Partridge tracks the insect life on roofs throughout New York to see if the roofs are providing food sources for the birds.”  The author visited Partridge on one of his roofs and put together a great video on the full article about the studies he’s conducting on New York’s green roofs.  He talks about the visiting birds and what wildlife benefits green roofs provide and compares the data he received with traditional black roofs.

– To learn more about these stories and new ones posted daily, go to our In the News or Newslinks section of our website.

– Send us your green articles, videos and images to and share your greenroof or greenwall info with the world!

– Make sure to keep up with everything by following us on Twitter, liking us on Facebook, being a member of our network on LinkedIn, and subscribing to our greenroofsTV channel on YouTube!

– This has been This Week in Review for June 22nd,  2012 on GreenroofsTV.  I’m Anjuli Velázquez and I’ll see you next week!

*This week’s episode is sponsored by The Greenroof Directory, brought to you by*

Did we miss something?  We’d love to hear from you!

~ Linda V.

Greenroofed Sam Nunn Federal Center Dedicated in Atlanta!

June 18, 2012 at 10:56 am

Operated by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), the Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center serves as the home of several federal agencies and is one of Atlanta’s most environmentally friendly facilities.

As you may know, the mission of the GSA is:

“…to use expertise to provide innovative solutions for our customers in support of their missions, and by so doing, foster an effective, sustainable, and transparent government for the American people.”

And, the GSA vision:

“Positions the government to be ever adapting its work environments, tools, and processes so as to better serve the public. The GSA uses the notion of “the future workplace” to express and visualize this evolution for its customers.

Is fueled by two powerful sparks for change, namely sustainability and transparency. The former is a doctrine for managing resources with utmost care and an obsession with “no waste.” The latter is a doctrine for inviting our collective intelligence and wisdom to our work.”

Over the past two years, the GSA Region 4 has installed about 25 greenroofs.  And in 2010-2011 the GSA replaced the roofs of three Georgia federal buildings with vegetative roofs.  And we all know how these roofs will help the buildings mitigate their footprints by absorbing rainwater and minimizing runoff to the sewer system, and reducing heat absorption, thereby lowering air conditioning costs.  In addition, the materials used for these projects were environmentally friendly by minimizing or omitting petroleum in their manufacture.

Two of these formerly barren roofs are located on the very green Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center, whose Green Roof Ribbon Cutting Ceremony was held on May 31, 2012 presented by the GSA, Michael E. Clark & Associates, the Design Build Team of National Building Contractors, and Tremco Roofing and Building Maintenance.

Aramis and I had the pleasure of attending the presentation and dedication as well as spending the morning with Tremco Vegetated Roofing Program Development Manager and Horticulturalist (and friend) Mary Ann Uhlmann, who designed the vegetative portions of the roofs.

Built in 1924, these two newly greened roofs sit atop the 10-story Midrise and the restored 6-story Rich’s Department Store portion of the Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center, respectively.

Utilizing American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, the $2.6 million project renovation’s goals, consistent with the GSA’s roofing program, were to provide thermal and moisture protection; conserve energy and the environment; reduce utility costs; and help attain energy security by meeting Energy Independence and Security Act requirements.  The project meets Sustainability Executive Order 13514.

GSA’s Gail Gordon welcomed about 200 of us in attendance in the beautiful (and very secure), marble lobby of the Sam Nunn Federal Center in downtown Atlanta, and then GSA Regional Administrator Shyam Reddy addressed how the many benefits the greenroofs have added to the already green center, including deferred maintenance.

He spoke about responsible government and the benefits of working with a city like Atlanta in a collaborative way to reduce stormwater runoff, create local jobs, enable the GSA to out compete competitors, and leverage federal money.

Mr. Reddy continued and commented that in a era of trying to provide a clean energy economy as well as preserving national energy and climate security, this green building is symbolic to ensuring a brighter and cleaner future for everyone.  And overall, this can have a tremendous impact on development.  By the way, President Obama has asked the GSA to serve on his Green Team, leading the country to a zero real estate footprint policy.

GSA architect and technical representative Steve Moore followed with a quick presentation on some of the technical aspects of the roofing issues, and Tremco’s Senior Sales Consultant Jim  Lohmann, RRC, RRO, CDT, GRP rounded out the technical and sustainability explanations involved with the various roofing recycling and additions for which Tremco was responsible.

In testing the roofs’ structural integrity, it was determined that part of the Rich’s portion could not support a vegetated roof and a white 60 mil Tremco “Cool Roof” was installed adjacent to the large greenroof:

Tremco had an information booth here and after the presentation, many people visited to learn more about vegetated roofing options.

Steve and fellow GSA architect Roland Royster were our tour guides up on the former Rich’s Department Store greenroof, where the actual greenroof ribbon-cutting was held.

We did not go up to the Midrise greenroof because of logistics.  Here are some before and after shots of the Midrise from Jim Lohmann:

I also got a personal tour from Mary Ann Uhlmann, who showed me around the different planting areas of the large roof.  Here you can see her in a bed of native cacti:

Scott McGaughy of Greenrise Technologies (formerly Landscape Support Services), who installed and maintains the vegetated roofs, joined us and added lots of great information.  He said that although the GSA did not want irrigation initially, he recently added some to the project for extreme times.  Here we came across a very active grasshopper amidst the succulents:

In this area, Mary Ann has set aside one area of the greenroof that she uses for testing new plants as well as propagating them:

The Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center has been recognized in our industry already. In 2011 the project received the inaugural RoofPoint™ Award from the Center of Environmental Innovation in Roofing (CEIR) for “Excellence in Life Cycle Management,” distinguished by its efficient re-use of original roofing materials.

Congratulations to the GSA and another successful renovation project!

Read more about the many people involved with the Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center in the Greenroof & Greenwall Projects Database, and for any vegetated roof-related questions, please contact Mary Ann Uhlmann at:

Happy Greening,

~ Linda V.