Off-Center: Fall/Winter 2020
Greening South First
Austin’s South First Street got a bit more verdant after Wildflower Center environmental designers installed a green roof — three distinct green roof sections, to be exact — at the headquarters of real estate developer StoryBuilt (also the client) in summer 2019.
Summer is a particularly tough time to plant a green roof in Texas, but Ecological Research and Design Director Matt O’Toole says we ensured success by implementing a “regimented irrigation protocol” that began with spray irrigation and switched to drip irrigation once plantings became more established.
Center experts selected plants, led implementation, and will contribute maintenance recommendations for the roofs, which are part of a mixed-use development at 900 S. First St. Like all of our green roof projects, the roofs use SkySystem? planting medium, developed by Wildflower Center researchers.
O’Toole says this project was unique because one of the three sections is shaded throughout the afternoon. “We did some sun-shade analysis,” he explains, “and selected the plant palettes from there.” In the two sunnier sections, they employed a mix of 51 native species, mostly herbaceous plants representing our local Blackland Prairies ecoregion (one of the most endangered areas in North America).
By contrast, nine shade-loving species were used on the shaded section of roof, including inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium; learn more here), pine muhly (Muhlenbergia dubia), tropical sage (Salvia coccinea), zexmenia (Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida) and pale-leaf and twistleaf yucca (Yucca pallida and Y. rupicola, respectively). O’Toole describes the result as “much more ornamental” than our typical green roofs, which are designed to endure extreme heat and sun exposure.
Senior Environmental Designer John Hart Asher has been moonlighting as the host of “Central Texas Gardener,” a long-running Austin PBS show, since fall 2019, in addition to his work at the Wildflower Center. Though Asher is more used to being an interviewee, he says he’s really enjoyed hosting the show and has learned a great deal.
He particularly valued getting to chat with landscape architect Thomas Rainer, co-author of “Planting in a Post-Wild World.” In addition to learning from his guests, Asher says it’s “great to hear the reputation the Wildflower Center has” with such influential people, noting children’s author Sharon Lovejoy as another highlight from his guest roster. “It’s helping establish relationships between the Center and professionals around the country,” he adds.
One interesting aspect of the show for Asher is that there is more flexibility in plant topics since CTG does not have a native-only approach. He’s used to coming at things from a “purely ecological perspective,” and he’s learning that there’s an interesting dialogue to be had between native specialists and gardeners more broadly. “Gardening is such a big, wild universe,” says Asher, who’s embracing the opportunity to consider alternative perspectives and offer his own vice versa to guests. He sees it as a testament to the value of people “on different wavelengths” and with various areas of expertise coming together and just talking.
Shout-outs From the Garden-verse
Wildflower Center Director of Horticulture Andrea DeLong-Amaya has the honor of being one of “75 extraordinary women working in the world of plants” featured in “The Earth in Her Hands,” a new book by gardening writer and educator Jennifer Jewell. DeLong- Amaya also appeared on an episode of Jewell’s popular “Cultivating Place” podcast (listen here).
Edgeland House, a spectacular home in East Austin created by architecture firm Bercy Chen Studio LP and Wildflower Center environmental designers, was the subject of an episode of “Home,” a new series from Apple TV+. The structure, which is nestled into a hillside and topped with a 2,300-square-foot green roof, belongs to lawyer and science fiction author Chris Brown, who says on the show: “This division between human space and nature is a construct of our own making. This house is about inviting the immediate environment in.” Center Senior Environmental Designer John Hart Asher (above left) appears in the episode and discusses how the home came to include a native prairie.