Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Trees = Living Wall, Urban Greening in Small Spaces

You can add an amazing amount of vertical green in very small city spaces.
Living Wall using containerized fruit trees

Smaller urban trees can serve to shade walls, provide habitat, produce food, clean stormwater and so much more.  And the concrete does not have to be busted up to allow the trees to grow and prosper.

The photos included here are of a very small lot in a small urban core (downtown) trailer park.  The owner has created a living wall/forest with food trees.  Citrus, figs and fruit trees line the western exposure wall of the trailer.
Florida Living Wall, Urban Greening in small spaces using trees

If even a small portion of all the trailers, small houses and apartments with balconies create living walls from containerized plants, we'd see such a huge improvement to Urban Core air quality and heat island effect while butterflies, bees and dragonflies swarmed about.

Scaleability and cost effectiveness are huge components of a successful Urban Core Greening program.

We can all learn from this example, go home and do the same, creating a living wall with containerized citrus, fig and fruit trees.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Balcony Greening Jacksonville's Urban Core - Reversing Ecological Consumerism Trends

'Seeds of Green" efforts are beginning here in Jacksonville and Northeast, Florida as an effort to highlight important sustainability efforts no matter how large or small they are.

The inaugural post will feature the efforts of Michelle and Toi Chance-Sangthong of Jacksonville, Florida and I appreciate all the photos they have shared on Facebook - those you see here in this note.
Michelle & Toi's Balcony Garden, Urban Core Greening
Michelle and Toi live in an apartment with their balcony offering to best opportunity to garden.  Without plants, their apartment building is just another concrete structure in the Urban Core.

Michelle and Toi have grown and raised a number of plants on their quite small balconies.   Their example is what other apartment or condo dwellers should follow for several very important reasons.
Aloe, flowers and food plants line their balconies

We all know that grey concrete and black asphalt now cover what was once stretches of green in many cities.  With the loss of vertical and horizontal green, wildlife have suffered while habitat was paved over.

Plants growing in the Urban Core are vital for a number of reasons, including; clean air (they remove carbon dioxide and pump out fresh oxygen), carbon sequestration, stormwater attenuation and cleansing, wildlife and habitat creation, urban heat island reduction, wind breaks, stress reduction, food, beauty and so much more.
Urban Core greening, growing plants in small spaces

Though we might think that one balcony full of plants is a drop in the bucket, the cumulative effect of many inhabitants following Michelle's and Toi's example could make a profound difference in Urban Core environmental quality.

Looking at photos of their balcony I see food, flowers and important ethnobotanicals such as aloe.

Their intensive growing systems include micro irrigation techniques and containerized soil media units.
Michelle and Toi's milkweed, Asclepias curassavica

I've watch them post photos of different types of food they've raised, like cucumbers, on Facebook over the summer.

In many ways Michelle and Toi are becoming environmental producers rather than environmental consumers.  For instance, their balcony plants are replacing a significant portion of the oxygen they daily consume.  Some may say, "Hey, that isn't a big deal - the plants in our yard do that!"  However for apartment or condo dwellers in the Urban Core who do not have yards, their balcony plants can be the best way to offset eco-consumerism.
Urban Core Monarch caterpillars devouring Michelle's milkweed

Growing your own food saves energy too.  With the oil crises where it is, local food eliminates the need for long distance trucking of industrially grown produce, saving diesel and gasoline.  Some statistics show the average distance food on a family's evening dinner table exceeds two thousand miles.  Michelle's and Toi's average fifty feet or so.  Now I am sure all their food doesn't originate on the little balcony, yet their intent and efforts are what this world needs in creating a healthy and sustainable Urban Core.

Beyond the food are the butterflies.  Michelle and Toi grew Monarchs, unknowingly at first, across their balcony.  Michelle purchased a variety of milkweed, Asclepias curassavica from the nearby Ace Hardware store.  Soon her balcony was crawling, literally with Monarch larvae and caterpillars.
Monarch chrysalis on the balcony milkweeds

Michelle went back to the store to buy more milkweed as the caterpillars quickly devoured most of the millkweed leaves.

Michelle and Toi again were producing environmental gain for the Urban Core.
Thanks to Michelle and Toi, Monarchs find habitat in the Urban Core's concrete jungle

Michelle counted fourteen Monarch chrysalis with twelve surviving to ecolsion.

If just one hundred thousand others would follow Michelle's and Toi's example the world could boast of an addition one million four hundred thousand Monarch butterflies.

Little efforts add up.

'Seeds of Green' salutes Michelle and Toi's efforts in Urban Greening and hopes to see more over the years.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Green Roof and Urban Core Plant Extraordinaire, Bidens spp.

I was asked to contribute towards a new municipality green roof regulatory policy, one where there was considerable incentive given developers towards site entitlements if the project would include a green/vegetated roof.

Monarch Butterfly & Bidens alba

Zebra Swallowtail & Bidens alba
One of the committee members also invited was an accomplished technical/construction specialist - one with multiple graduate degrees in technical and mechanical fields.  But she did not understand plants.

Her past green roof projects had been designed around available landscape plants.  Choose the typical on-the-ground landscape plant and design irrigation and fertilizer and other accessory design criteria to support the landscape plants - was the motto.

Whenever we'd discuss native species or volunteer species showing up on the roof, she'd immediately try to quash the discussion by shouting 'WEEDS!  NO ONE WANTS WEEDS ON THE ROOF!' 

I think it was because she felt uncomfortable trying to work with the organic, dynamic complexities of nature.  Obviously she wanted no part of having native plants or wildflowers or grasses on the roof.  Moreover, I've seen some of her 'landscaped' green roofs and they quickly revert back to natives, or as she calls them 'weeds'.  I am sure selective herbicides are used quite often on her green roofs and with obviously little luck.

Now is the time to stop.  We must stop seeing masses of green and train ourselves to look at the plant.  There are few if any true worthless weeds in nature and likewise few, if any true worthless weeds on green roofs or across the Urban Core.

Each plant has its own beauty and purpose, even those obnoxious ones.

I've often quoted Lydia Cabrera in saying "there are more spirits in the plants/forests than in the sky'.

The vegetated roof in Sanford I toured this week was full and vibrant due to volunteer plants.

Really, there are no true worthless weeds.

I heard the weed thing again from my daughter, today. 

She showed me her photos of one of the most obnoxious plants in my book - Bidens alba (Hairy Beggar's-tick).  Just try walking through a mass of Bidens and wait till you come out the other end of the patch.... 

I love their masses of white flowers but distrust their desire to bestow me with masses of aggravating seeds.

I almost at this time of the year agreed with the self-centered technocrat who probably couldn't tell bamboo from horsetail or coral honeysuckle from trumpet vine.  I almost shouted WEEDS!

But Jincy showed me her pictures from today.  Ones she and Ruairi took out back.  The Bidens are growing on the roof too.

And Lydia Cabrera is right about more spirits in plants.  And I am right about 'there really are no weeds'....

No need to weed the Bidens from the back yard or the corner lot or the green roofs.  Just step back and admire the flowers and astonishing numbers of pollinators drawn to this plant.

Metallic Green Bee and Bidens alba

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Green Roofs and Biomimicry's Lessons

An understanding of proper plant use for Urban Greening projects, including green roofs and urban permaculture gardens can come from many sources including, research, books, libraries, on-line information sharing and hands-on experience.

Florida Green Roof Plants - Frog Fruit crows across harsh, hot coquina sea wall boulders

One of my favorite ways to learn about what species of plants to use and how to grow them across cityscapes is to study successful plant habit in harsh ecosystems.

Those plants growing well under the influence of extreme heat, high humidity, strong desiccating winds, intense light or shade levels and other environmental factors will  usually survive on a city roof, against a wall, on a patio or balcony and in a windowsill.

Too many times designers try and use those plants that need to be gently cared for in cityscapes.  Ultimately the plants die and the urban greening project is shelved for another with less perceived maintenance requirements.

Florida Green Roof Plants - Nature's Examples are the Best Way to Learn About Urban Greening

However, there are many places to find the results of nature's selections and choices.

The beach and her sand dunes; hot, dry roadsides; Urban rooftops; gutters on buildings, vacant lots are just a few of many mini-biomes presenting opportunities for learning about plant growth habits, root architecture, soil, water and nutrient requirements and more.

This week I was walking along a coquina rock seawall.  I cannot go far with my dissected aorta and many times, walking ten feet or so is enough to tire me to the point of sitting down to rest.  The slowness has advantages though and stopping more often allows for opportunities to examine small outcrops of plants in detail.

The coquina boulders in front me, though they were surrounded by salt water, buffeted with strong winds and unrelenting sunlight, supported an amazing array of lovely plants and wildflowers.

Those plants I saw on the boulders, the Frog Fruit, Hydrocotyle, native succulents, many of these we have successfully used across green roofs in North Florida.

Nature can teach us many things.  We just need to stop and look.