Inspiring Experience on the Rooftop

Before the course began this semester, I had a brief view of the green roof and the living wall from the knowledge I acquired from construction classes. The benefits of them are clear and the vision of future city with living walls and green roof is fascinating. That is why I wanted to take this course: to get a closer look at this ‘new weapon’ in a landscape architect’s armory to learn its weakness and challenges.

In this semester, the main project is on the extensive green roofs. There are 3 different planting systems on the roof, which are prairie, succulent garden, and urban agriculture. The learning process combines with these parts: labeling the plants, doing health rating of plants, eliminating weeds, planting new plants, and fixing and maintaining the irrigation system.

Texas is such a hard place to utilize roofs as planting spaces. Due to extreme climate change in this area, the plants on the succulent garden suffer from sudden change of temperature.  The plant palette is the main challenge we have when we want to design a roof garden. The process of selecting and testing proper plants is time consuming and in need of great effort of protecting the research area. During this semester, I witnessed the flourish of plants we assumed dying, and the decline of plants due to carelessness of construction workers on the roof. The  experience reminds me of the importance of patience and carefulness in learning.

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The labeling and evaluating process have enhanced my knowledge of plant species, especially succulent plants. Meanwhile, the process of organizing data of plant evaluation took me to have a quick look at how the research work is done in landscape architecture area. As the Texas native species grow very well when spring comes, I have a better understanding of choosing plant in my future design in Texas. In addition, the recognition of weeds will also benefit my future career. The overall experience has given me a deeper understanding of the suitable character of plants on the roof. At the end of this semester, the urban agriculture side have new plants with rapid growth. The squish and eggplant grew faster than I imagined. It is always pleasant to watch these cheerful growth of the plants you put your effort in and the lovely looks of these succulent plants.

Last but not the least, the course involving irrigation of roof also gave me the knowledge of how to build a irrigation system on the roof and how to maintain it. The hazardous climate in winter causes the water left in irrigation pipes to freeze, which will break the PVC pipes. As a solution, we need to pull out the water in pipes before the coldest days come, or use soft pipes which have flexibility when the water freezes to reduce damage.

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Green Roof Spring 2017

This spring I teamed up with fellow MLA student Zhihan to help maintain the green roof. At the beginning of the semester we completed the plant list based on former student’s work. The Langford A Building green roof, set up by previous students, is divided into 3 sections: edible palnts, succulents, and prairie. Each of us also recommended 3 new succulent species to the plant list. Then we went to the rooftop and planted these new species. Afterwards we did the evaluation on the plants for Prof. Dvorak’s research. We also did weeding for the modules and helped set up the irrigation system for the edible section.

Helping with the edible garden. Photo credit: Zhihan Tao

What’s different from the regular class

  1. First I learn about several green roof plants. I took HORT courses before and there is no introduction to specific green roof plants. This is because there is not enough research conducted. With Prof. Dvorak’s work we are learning what plant species are good for green roof in Texas.
  2. Get my hands dirty. I planted the plants in modules and did weeding. Planting plants is more fun than learning their characteristics in regular class. For planting the plants in modules, I learned from Prof. Dvorak that the same species should be planted in one module for observation and demonstration purposes.
  3. Set up irrigation system. We helped Dr. Merrill set up the irrigation system with his edible plants section. We learned how to draw irrigation plan in the construction course, it’s really fun to take actions and build the system from the scratch like cutting pipes. Seeing the nozzles sprinkling is a very beautiful moment.

Photo credit: Zhihan Tao

Overall, working on the rooftop is a very worthy experience in the MLA program.