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.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Fields of Yellow

Checking in on a project from last fall & I was transported to a sea of yellow!

We installed these pre-grown sedum trays at New York Hospital Queens (NYHQ) - 15,000 SF in all. The sedum will help to regulate and capture stormwater runoff during wet weather, so we've been watching it do its job all week. The roof is visible from many patients' rooms, so this golden oasis can add a bit of brightness to these grey days!

Sedum is a water-holding plant that also has drought tolerance. It can grow in many colors, but ours grew in with the cheery hue of sunshine! It has a special type of metabolism called "Crassulacean Acid Metabolism' (CAM) which, during draught conditions, allows it to open its leaf pores at night rather than during the day, making it more efficient than non-CAM plants. We got our trays from LiveRoof, a great network of green roof growers.

The roof will be monitored by Manhattan College students, who will be measuring its impact on local water systems. Making it not only a beautiful site, but also a learning space.

The greenroof at NYHQ was just one aspect of the hospital's plan to reduce their environmental impact. They also replaced old equipment with newer high efficiency models, began a recycling program - the hospital was the first to meet Mayor Bloomberg's challenge to NYC hospitals, universities, and businesses to reduce overall carbon emissions by 30 percent over ten years. NYHQ met that goal in just two!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Red, White & Hot - Chasing Ice

On this eve of the 4th of July, I find myself in a contemplative mood. The weekend promises to be hot, sticky, and maybe a little rainy. As I plan my little family's weekend festivities outdoors, I can't help but wish I could pack a giant cooler of ice, at the ready for whenever the sun beats down.  Which led to me thinking about those giant mountains of ice in the Arctic.

I recently watched the beautifully poignant and absolutely terrifying film, Chasing Ice. The film follows James Balog, an environmental photographer, as he shifts from skeptic to missionary through his bold and brutal multi-year project to capture the changing landscape of the Arctic. The result is haunting. As he compresses the years into seconds, ancient mountains of ice disappear right before your eyes. I wanted to go there immediately and at least hug the beautiful peaks goodbye. It also made me think that I need to move to higher ground.

Mayor Bloomberg recently produced his Coastal Protection Plan, a 430-page report, where he recommends the construction of levees, floodwalls, and other developments that would prepare the city for climate change. The report highlights the devastating effects that rising water and temperature levels could have on the city, making bold recommendations that would need to be implemented over many years (and with the support of next administration). You can listen to the mayor’s speech and learn more about the plan with Jennifer Vanasco's piece at WNYC.

(Rendering shows Coney Island Creek wetlands and tidal barrier proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg)

I’m not sure I agree with all of the mayor’s plans, but I was happy to see the conversation beginning. Cheers for a happy and safe holiday weekend - full of Red, White, & Blue fun! My only wish is that all of those folks lucky enough to head up to rooftops to gaze up at those fabulous colors exploding over the Hudson were also able to look down at a greenroof at their feet. 

Want to see exactly where and what is proposed? Check out this great interactive map from the WNCY Data News team: