Rooftop garden

This is the garden atop McCracken Hall (the education building) on OU's East Green.

Anyone familiar with Ohio University probably knows that McCracken Hall is the base of the Gladys W. and David H. Patton College of Education. What they likely don’t know is that the building is also home to a sizeable crop of flowers and herbs.

McCracken has a Green Roof Garden, a 2,000-square-foot area on top of the building devoted to sedums, alliums and thyme.

It’s one of two such gardens on the Athens campus and a part of OU’s effort to become more sustainable. The second one is on the roof of a utility tunnel at Jefferson Hall, across East Union Street from McCracken.

The McCracken garden was installed in 2016 and “covers 2,000 square feet of tightly fitting plastic trays with 16 varieties of low-growing sedums, one thyme and one allium species in six inches of planting medium,” said Susan Calhoun, OU’s landscape coordinator. “The planting medium is an engineered soil that is light weight and well-draining.”

The other garden was created last summer during the Jefferson residence hall renovation. It’s about 4,000 square feet and has a tray-system mixture of low-growing sedums.

“Both sedum mixtures, the thyme and allium are flowering plants that provide beautiful color and form for humans to enjoy as well as food for pollinators,” Calhoun said. “The foliage on these species are also interesting for their texture and color.”

Green Roof Gardens are known to reduce stress levels for building occupants compared to the industrial look of a conventional roof system, according to Calhoun. Some installations produce edible crops, although that’s not done here at OU.

The gardens do not require much upkeep. Just “weeding regularly, fertilization (and) water checks during drought conditions,” Calhoun said.

She is not the only person on campus especially attentive to the Green Roofs. So is Elaine Goetz of the Office of Sustainability.

Goetz is in charge of evaluating and reporting Ohio University’s sustainability profile, and it’s her goal this year to win a Gold Stars rating from an organization that works to avoid the depletion of natural resources by U.S. institutions of higher education. Three years ago OU achieved a Silver rating.

“We are on the cusp of Gold but won’t know for sure if we will receive it for another couple of weeks,” she said.

Green Roofs support sustainability goals in a variety of ways, according to Goetz. They absorb storm water, filter pollutants, provide insulation and reduce the temperature in the area – lowering the “heat island effect.”

Despite their advantages, there are no existing plans to install other roof gardens. Goetz pointed out that a Green Roof can’t be installed just anywhere – “roofs have to be designed to hold the additional weight of the soil and to prevent roof leaks.” But she added, “Green roofs are considered for almost every new building project on campus, so it is possible that more roofs gardens will be built soon.”

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