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Sky Gardens ~
Travels in Landscape Architecture

By Linda S. Velazquez, ASLA Associate, LEED AP, Greenroofs.com Publisher

What do you get when you cross a landscape in the sky with an ecological designer, greenroof website publisher, and an international flight attendant?  Why, a column entitled “Sky Gardens ~ Travels in Landscape Architecture” of course!

Stuttgart, New York, Machu Picchu, Athens, Mexico City, Seattle, Amsterdam…

Welcome to the ramblings of my unique bird’s eye perspective of the world, as I continue to visit new cities and noteworthy landscape architecture projects ~ both at ground and greenroof level.

April 2006

Sky Gardens Update - Almost Famous in the ATL

Last month I was contacted by a PBS television producer from Boston regarding taping a segment for The Victory Garden, "America’s oldest and most popular gardening program" series. She explained they would be visiting Atlanta in a couple of weeks to tape for a show on small space urban gardens, and wanted me to help her highlight area residential greenroofs.  She found my project photos and read about my design for a converted warehouse in downtown Atlanta turned artist studio/oriental medical arts practice/two story loft residence greenroof on our website in The Greenroof Projects Database, and wanted to visit 3TEN HauStudio if possible.  Well, I'm no marketing major, but I recognized a marketing opportunity right away and happily agreed.

PBS was planning on filming on a late morning Thursday the first week of April at 3TEN HauStudio, so I suggested they make the most of their time and for us to meet at Saul's Nursery at "The Swamp" location first since they have been supplying plants for greenroofs for years now and have a great almost 4-year-old extensive greenroof of their own which, when in season, blooms profusely.  Click here to see the project in detail.  They loved the idea, because after all, The Victory Garden is first and foremost a program about people and plants, and what better setting than a nursery with such a wide variety of colorful and varied plant material?  So we planned to meet Thursday morning there at 8:00 a.m. and then proceed to Diane's, a 15-minute drive.

Here is an interesting up and coming regeneration area in the middle of an older historic district - Castleberry Hill - full of artist studios, funky eateries, loft condos, barber shops, a huge U-Haul on one side and a homeless mission shelter on the other - multi use is the name of the game here.  I hardly ate for a couple of days just thinking about being on TV, like I needed to have 10 pounds added to my frame, but reality set in and so I had no recourse but to get into action.  I quickly realized I not only had to figure out what to wear, but I had to get "my" greenroof in shape for TV! This 2001 urban eclectic design was based on an Asian theme of rather defined spaces of semi-extensive plants juxtaposed by expanded slate (substituted for the desired but heavier gravel) beds, representing land and water and "confined" by wood and plastic landscape edging.

Left: Design in April 2003, Photo by Linda S. Velazquez; Right: Owner Diane in July, 2003, Photo by AJC.

Organic Encroachings and "Maintenance is in the Eye of the Beholder"

Well, four and a half years later plus a very busy and highly creative owner who actually enjoys the uninhibited exuberance of nature had resulted in a rather unstructured look for her greenspace that says, "You can't keep me in!"  Kind of like a teenager yearning for freedom (I'm a mother of three, so I know). Thank goodness that Diane has humored me with visitors over the years and didn't mind my coming over to "primp and prune" - and weed, replant errant sedums, remove a couple of dead plants and some thatch, etc.  As an ecological designer I certainly can appreciate the organic look, but this was just too earthy and not enough Japanese for the desired effect of the space.  It had been over a year since I had visited.

Believe it or not, fate was on my side and the week before a student from Gwinnett Tech - Cloud Conrad - had contacted me about volunteering for a current project of mine, the Alpharetta Environmental Park Greenroof Pavilion (GA), and so she agreed to come and help me weed here as well.  You would be surprised at what we found that was not designed to be there!  Countless dandelions, oxalis, maple seedlings, various grasses, moss, and very interestingly, Fragaria virginiana - Common Strawberry.

Volunteer Cloud Conrad, a Greenroof Enthusiast; Photos by Linda S. Velazquez.

We pulled out all the weeds and tree seedlings of course, but kept the moss and strawberry because this attractive groundcover with dainty yellow daisy-like flowers is native and offers small red edible fruit to boot.  The birds just love them, and are probably responsible for planting them there, although the wind could have blown them up and in, too, I suppose.  Artist Diane says she has had quite a few experiences with a range of birds here - from hawks and songbirds to doves - who have made the little 670 sf greenroof home, or a least a vegetative corridor along their way through the otherwise green-less cityscape.  The doves actually had a nest on their adjacent deck, and two babies could be found sitting and cooing daily within the greenroof for almost a year.  The other end of the spectrum involved a fearless hawk who could also be found perched atop the deck railing looking for prey, at ground and greenroof level...

Semi-Extensive Plants Revisited

So Cloud and I worked a whole afternoon, the Tuesday before the shoot, and we could have worked some more.  The producers decided to come the next day instead of Thursday to get some "B-roll" without me since they also had a meeting scheduled at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens after Diane's. They felt Saul Nursery would be a perfect backdrop to our short segment since they had all the greenroof plants right there, in particular the many species of sedums and other succulents common in extensive greenroof applications.  See the photos before and after, April 4, 2006, compared to the earlier photos above for a sense of how aggressive certain of these plants can be - in particular the Sedum tectractinum - but I was told by Bobby Saul that this is pretty much its southern limits in terms of cold hardiness.  But beware - this plant is not for the faint of heart here in the Atlanta area, and certainly outperformed the other four species.

3TEN HauStudio Design "Before" in April 2006 early in the morning, Photos by Linda S. Velazquez.

Aside from weeding, we also spent a lot of time repositioning stray sedums that had escaped their boundaries, but the Dianthus, creeping phlox, and regular and dwarf mondo grasses had spread but were relatively well behaved.  I did, however, hardily prune the woody Serissas, which had grown a lot bigger than expected in the 5" average growing medium.  The original trailing rosemary had long ago failed during the first season, probably due to over watering, and this time I repositioned some variegated sedge located in the center island to the lowest point, near the drainage.

3TEN HauStudio "After" in April 2006 late in the afternoon, Photos by Cloud Conrad

For ornamental value and a reinforcement of the Asian feel, two dwarf crepe myrtles had been set within the original mostly green design, and they were very healthy and had just set buds for June display.  The owner Diane says most visitors love these tiny 18" and 24" crepe myrtles the most with their delicate bright pink flowers and oriental branching structures which provide  winter interest in an otherwise evergreen setting.

3TEN HauStudio after some maintenance; Left: the larger crepe myrtle in creeping phlox;
Right: dwarf conifers; Photos by LSV.

I had also planted three species of dwarf conifers - blue star juniper, Japanese cedar, and Hinoki cypress - and I was happy that all eight plants were all faring well.  All they needed was some very light pruning of brown interior leaves.  For a look at this project in more detail, please see its  profile in The Greenroof Projects Database here.

View from the raised deck; Photo by Cloud Conrad

The Victory Garden Shoot

I was early on that Thursday morning, waiting for the PBS crew - but surprisingly enough (not really to those of us who live here), they got a little lost with our Atlanta street "layout" - seemingly easy, but no, they maneuvered many curves, mysterious numbering systems, street name changes and continuances of names even through city blocks, rivers and streams.  Finally, they arrived, and it was a true joy to meet the four: Executive Producer Laurie Donnelly, recent Emmy Award winning Camera Man Joel Coblenz (he won last weekend for The Victory Garden), Associate Producer Deborah Hurley, and the Host, Michael Weishan.  I really thought I'd be nervous, but I wasn't.  I can honestly say I had a fantastic time, and the Saul Nursery reps, Karen Stever and Tam, were true professionals, too.

Left: The PBS Crew: L-R: Deborah, Michael, Linda, Laurie and Joel; Right: Linda, Michael and Karen.

Laurie set us up, and we paced our steps, changed direction because of the morning light, removed leather coats because all of the sudden the earlier crisp air melted into the more recognizable southern humidity, and we kind of went over what we would discuss.  It was actually very exciting!  Yeah, we had to do it a few times, first because we went too long - I don't know who rambled more, Michael or I - but then each of us messed up and started laughing, so we had do do it again.  I only wish the various Delospermas and Sedums were in bloom - only a few were feebly attempting to open so early in April.  See the flowering photo below from summer 2005 and the one I took late in March 2006.

Different Seasons of the Saul Nursery Greenroof, Left: Photo by Bobby Saul, 2005;
Right:  Photo by Linda S. Velazquez, 2006.

The premise was for us to be casually walking over to the greenroof shelter, address the concept briefly, and then walk over to the adjacent table and show some of the appropriate plants using my Greenroofs.com birdfeeder as a demonstration model.  My friend and fellow University of Georgia School of Environmental Design alumna Shelly Cannady, who also contributed to the 3TEN HauStudio design, built it for us using scrap wood to resemble a typical classic Athens, GA structure.  She recycled two plastic meat containers for the planting inserts in the pitched roof line, so I took advantage of this and showed the two different types of greenroof systems: one preplanted as representative of a modular system and one showing the waterproofing, drainage, growing media, and other typical extensive plants used in a conventional layering system.

Setting for The Victory Garden, April, 2006

Saul Nursery Greenroof and birdfeeder demonstration for the PBS series The Victory Garden; Photo by Linda S. Velazquez, April 2006.

More Atlanta Greenroofs

Well, I'll probably be on air for all of about about two minutes and hopefully they'll include footage of 3TEN HauStudio, but in any case it certainly was fun and an opportunity to highlight a couple of Atlanta's residential scale greenroofs. We have several non-residential extensive and intensive greenroofs here, a few educational ones and most notably Atlanta City Hall (2003) below - click here for more info.

Atlanta City Hall, April 2006:  Left Photo by Bill Brigham, City of Atlanta;
Right, Photo by Janet Faust, JDR Enterprises.

A couple of current high profile projects under construction include: the Southface Energy Institute Eco Office which will have two greenroofs and should be finished by October of this year and the 40,000 sf Gwinnett County Environmental & Heritage Center, which will have a total of four greenroofs and is expected to be planted by the end of April.  Look for their project profiles here soon in The Greenroof Projects Database.  Saul Nursery co-owners Bobby and Karen Saul also have a small greenroof over their own pool pump house, see here.   Check out the other area projects by searching either by city or state.

Look for this Victory Garden episode show # VGAR3012 on Georgia PTV: Saturday, May 20, 12:00PM; WPBA: Saturday, May 20, 8:00 AM, or depending on your local PBS schedule.  And remember what they say, the camera adds 30 pounds, right?


Publisher's Note:  See the inaugural Sky Gardens column which highlighted the Atlanta area from June 2003 here.

Linda is founder and publisher of Greenroofs.com, a greenroof design consultant, and has been a Delta Air Lines international flight attendant since 1979.  All opinions expressed in this column are exclusively those of Linda S. Velazquez.  Delta Air Lines neither contributes to nor endorses this column or website. (And, Yes, she is still flying.)

Linda went back to school and received her Bachelor’s of Landscape Architecture degree from the University of Georgia in 2000.  She received her LEED™ Accredited Professional designation in August, 2004, and welcomes your comments; contact her at: linda@greenroofs.com.


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