Reflections of Anti-Sedum Fetishist

Oct 15, 2010

For @NYCWW

Over the years I have  built up a reputation for being a little anti- sedum when it comes to green roofs. Most people don’t really get my attitude. I like sedums. In fact when I was a child wandering the countryside and coast of E. Kent Sedum acre was one of the first plants I could identify. It grew on the cliffs, the dunes and shingle banks I escaped to, to watch birds and engulf myself in wildlife.

The problem for me was always that if you mentioned green roofs people would respond ‘Oh you mean  a sedum roof’. No! ‘I mean a green roof- one that is green in terms of what is tryin gto achieve.’  When we trying over 10 years ago to get green roofs up for the black redstart and other wildlife associated with urban wastelands and brownfield sites we wanted ‘brown’ ‘rubble’ roofs. Such roofs would reflect the ecolgoical character of the original vacant lots prior to a great big building be plonked onto the site. I thoroughly regret being one of the people to come up with the ‘brown’ roof term. And if I could kill it, by strangulation, asphyxia or any other means I would However it is now a term. It is probably already in the OED!

But brown roofs is for another ramble. Let’s get back to my reflections on sedums. My reputation once got me banned from the farm of one the largest sedum blanket growers in the UK. I thought that was a bit extreme! However I am ‘cool’ in person about sedums. In fact I quite like them. What I resent is the ‘simplification’ of anything to fit the ‘market’. The construction industry and professionals want a solution like a paving slab or brick. That don’t like complexity. This IKEA mentality is very damaging when you really want to create habitats and provide all round ecosystem services. The one size fits all is the biggest danger in the green roof movement. This is also a significant of the training I do with in person or in partnership with my colleagues at Green Roof Training.

Back to the subject and the dedication. I have already blogged about my first trip to the US – and being held responsible for all the non-native plants brought over by the ‘ancestors’. I was in Illinois to do a presentation at the First North American Green Roof Conference in Chicago. At the time I didn’t have a title – I was just a bit of an activist and therefore I had labelled myself as representing the London Biodiveristy Partnership.

The chair of the session I was in was the wonderful Linda Velezquez of Greenroofs.com – I had never met her before and she has, I think it is safe to say,  is one of a crowd of great green roof friends from around the world,  who have made the last ten years a wonderful experience..

Well – she introduced me as ‘Dusty Gedge – from the London Biodiversity Partnership’

I still to this day don’t know what came over me – but my first words were;

‘I am also the President of the Anti-sedum fetishist Soceity’.

Boy did this have a reaction! Half the audience look at me with hate brimming in their eyes – but another half seemed interested. Well let it suffice to say I had everybody’s attention.

After the session a few people harangued me! Mostly gardeners and horticulturists I suspect. However the number of people who came over to me to chat about native plants on green roofs. Was it possible? Which ones? etc pleased meno end. Not in terms of my vanity but because there was a large body of people who were not satisfied with the standard approach being used for green roofs at that time in the US and Canada.

It has had funny consequences over the years. I walked into an Ed Sndograss presentation in DC in 2005. Ed stopped mid sentence ‘Hey Dusty’s arrived – he don’t like sedums’. Now Ed is another great friend. He grows sedums and other plants for the industry in Maryland. Later I met him and said I would  like to visit Emory Knoll. ‘Fine’ he said. However he wouldn’t be there when I was due – but ‘… the guards would be keeping an eye on me- so don’t try and sedum sabotage!’

I have visited Emory Knolls three times over the years. I wonderful place, a wonderful enterprise and I admire how Ed, his wife and the team are turning 70% of the farm back to native grassland. That’s very cool in my book.

There are now great examples of green roofs that have been designed with native flora and with a mind for local and regional habitats and characteristics throughout North America,  from Austen to Edmonton, San Francisco to Halifax. And there are throughout Europe from Greece to Norway.

So a little irreverence is a good thing. Perhaps the phrase – ‘President of the Anti-sedum fetishist Soceity is was the ‘punk’ in me [more on this in a future post]. I am certainly not claiming to betotally responsible for the emergence of a native and ecological approach to green roofs. But I and Dr. Stephan Brenneisen certainly played a part.

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