Friday, August 16, 2013

Enormous Joe Pye Weed

On a green roof in Fort Greene. Taller than me!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Plants on Vacation

It's suddenly cloudy and cold in Rhode Island. We are in Little Compton, an area that could be under water, and stay under, with the changing weather in the next 20 years. For now there are masses of Clethras with their candle blossoms spilling over the road, Bayberrys arch over sand dunes showing old gnarled trunks, their leaves somewhat upturned and whorled and decorated with small pale berries. A greatly underused shrub in our gardens. One that can be made to look quite elegant with time and pruning.

There are many Lilium superbums with flaming petals and tall stalks. Asclepias incarnata, Hibiscus, and swaths of Joe Pye Weed and Cattails and Rush.


Of course the wild grape, Japanese honey suckle, and knotweed loom large. The whole forest floor is covered with Euonymus. But I try to focus on the beautiful plants I love, enjoy seeing them in nature and not get depressed that all this habitat is being crowded out.....

Monday, July 22, 2013

Queen of the Night - night-blooming cereus

I was lucky enough to come across the beautiful bloom of the night-blooming cereus. The cactus blooms just one-night of the summer and dies as the sun rises.  With its strong, sweet scent, it attracts nocturnal creatures like Sphinx moths (sometimes called the hummingbird moths because they resemble the bird as hover to feed) and bats to be its pollinators. I captured a bit of the magic here.

And, thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can see it too:

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A bit more about that Tax Abatement Extension

A few weeks ago S.W.I.M. announced the extension and improvement of the NYC green roof tax abatement. I thought I'd go into more detail about changes to the abatement and how it helps you to build a green roof now!

Let's start with a quick summary of the current abatement from S.W.I.M.'s coordinator Rob Crauderueff:

Financially, the old abatement just didn't cut it. The reduced rate of $4.50/s.f. was too low to be appealing to private building owners, the amortization schedule reduced the value, and perhaps most disappointing, the administrative costs to implement a green roof could add $7.50/s.f. for a 10,000 s.f. green roof to about $19/s.f. for a 1,000 s.f. green roof.

Oh, and don't forget about all that time it takes to jump through those administrative hoops! Crauderueff sites that 3 out of 4 successful applicants spent over 100 hours of staff time on the process.

The abatement required that 80% of the roof must be covered with vegetation one year after application and specifically sited sedum as the go-to filler. Now, don't get me wrong, I think sedum is a beautiful and productive plant, but I stick with the Benjamin Franklin model - everything in moderation. Using pre-grown vegetative mats also increased costs.

Finally, non-profits and affordable housing owners couldn't benefit from the abatement, cutting out an interested and willing population.

The extension does not address all of the problems that Crauderueff and partners suggested, but there are some exciting improvements.

The definition of 'green roof' was expanded to allow for the inclusion of a controlled flow roof drains, specifying that if the depth medium is less than three inches, a controlled flow drain or other preventative drying method can be added.

New native and agricultural plant species were added to the list of "live plants" that can be used to meet the requirement of the 80% vegetation coverage. Opening the abatement up to rooftop farms and plants other than sedum.

The amount of the abatement was increased to $5.23/s.f. beginning July 1, 2014, which actually was just meant to keep the abatement in line with pricing increases, but we'll take it. Also the maximum was raised to $200,000 (up from $100,000), mostly meant to help out the more expensive rooftop farms.

The bill from the state legislature does not mention improving administrative procedures, so our fingers are crossed that some streamlining will happen with the implementation of the extension.

The point of these new incentives is part of a larger green infrastructure program in the city to capture the first ince of rainfall on 10% of the impervious areas in combined sewer watersheds through detention or infiltration techniques. But, because green roofs have so many other sustainability benefits, the abatement is open citywide.

Which makes me think, wouldn't it be great if individuals could register their own tiny improvements as part of the city's goal - registering window boxes, street planters, gardens, and native plants not only for tax credits (one can dream) but also to create a wider community around conservation efforts.

Here's to hoping. If you'd like to get involved, become a member of S.W.I.M. The group just announced their July meeting (Wednesday, July 24) where they'll discuss the Green Roof Tax Abatement in more depth.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Surviving the Heat Wave

Ugh. This entire week promises to embroil the city in a disgusting heat wave. Hot and humid. 

There are tons of Mosquitos.  Remember - you can reduce mosquitos in your backyards by making sure there are no pots or barrels collecting water, and that your gardens drain well. Geraniums and catnip supposedly repel mosquitos, but not sure that really works....

Many plants leaves droop in the heat even if they have enough water, like dogwoods, some hydrangeas, and also clethras. Make sure anything in pots is well watered! 

Wish we had more dragon flies and frogs to eat the buzzard!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Native Appreciation: Shady Love

In this weather, its hard to believe anyone could have a problem with shade. Heat waves one minute, giant storms the next, it all makes me want to run for cover! But shady backyards can pose a problem for the best city gardner.

Enter twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla). Its a great native plant that can thrive in the shade. When it flowers - don't blink, you might miss it - it has a single white flower. You'll notice that it's leafless stalk is topped by, you guessed it, a leaf divided lengthwise into two twin halves. It is a short plant that will add a lush green to your space.

On a historical note - the plant was named for Thomas Jefferson by his friend, William Bartram, and, besides the United States, is only found in Japan. Native Americans are said to have used the roots to ease cramps, treat liver problems & urinary infections, and as a gargle for sore throats. Early Americans also used it to cure many of the same ills, but don't get any ideas - the plant is now considered poisonous!

It is listed as endangered in Georgia and New Jersey, and threatened in Iowa and here in New York. Planting it in your garden not only adds beauty but also helps keep this little guy around.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

River to River - Artists Take On Water

This week is the last of the River to River Festival, a celebration of Lower Manhattan and a collaboration between cool partners working to foster conversations about the environment, art, and sustainability.

The neighborhood's flooding during Sandy was a shocking, poignant image from the storm and still pops into my head when I think of climate change or read about new plans for the city's water infrastructure (the image to the right is from the DailyNews' coverage after the storm, a throughly disturbing series of images). Fluid: Construct is a gathering of pieces created by four artists that addresses the city's relationship with water. It reminds me that sometimes its good to take a break from the world of architectural and design drawings to see planning work in a different light.

The festival goes through this weekend, but the exhibit will be open until August 2.