Garden Diary - September 2009

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Thursday, 3 September 2009
Dansko LEED

Lunch over at North Creek Nurseries we take a short drive over to the Dansko corporate headquarters in West Grove, Pennsylvania, our first stop on the PLNA tour. Right from the planning stage the facility was conceived as a Green site, with the intention of receiving a Gold level LEED for new construction certification from the United States Green Building Council.

What does LEED stand for? Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. An internationally recognized green building certification system, third-party verification recognizes a building or community designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance in energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, as well as stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.

The Dansko corporate headquarters utilizes building materials such as the glued-laminated structural timber framing (see here) was carefully sourced from the Forest Stewardship Council Certification program. Additionally, concrete, carpet tiles, and countertops made from concrete and recycled glass mean that materials with high recycled content such as fly-ash and slag were chosen. But then, terrazzo flooring has been a popular, long-lasting flooring material for millenia. The company purchases 100 percent of the building's annual electric energy from renewable wind-power. Furthermore, the building has energy performance that is rated 28 percent more efficient than the current code requirement.

Storm water is collected from the roof, guided by the rain chains to a 10,000 gallon
underground cistern. The water is used to flush all the toilets, waterless urinals
and low-flow fixtures, which results in a 75 percent potable water-use reduction.

Having seen rain chains in Japan I asked if these beautiful examples were imported.
Dansko's goal is, wherever possible, to source and use products and materials that are
regionally manufactured and / or harvested, preferably with 200 miles or so.
Likely made nearby, this summer's copious rain gave the rain chains a good workout.

Did you notice the green mulch next to the sidewalk?
It's glass cullet, which would otherwise be a waste product.
Here it adds color to the landscape with an easy-care product.

There is, but of course, a green roof. The first one I ever saw was in Holland, in 2002, at the Floriade.
Last year the Perennial Plant Association's annual meeting in Philadelphia included a visit
to Swarthmore College and many of us toured their green roof. And now, here's another one.

There's load stress to factor in, specialized free-draining planting medium, water collection, and the plants.
It's drought-tolerant succulents that are the most popular, with an occasional low-growing ornamental grass,
and a dianthus or two. This roof-top landscape even includes a small pergola, ideal for summer lunch breaks.


Louvered sun shades outside the windows work summer and winter, their slats
permitting low angle winter sunshine to enter the room whilst in summertime
the higher angle of overhead sunshine is shaded out. Sophisticated lighting
systems recognize the amount of light entering a room and automatically
adjusts the lighting system's output, rather than the typical all on / all off.


Pièce de résistance is this elegant green wall, highly visible
across the lobby as you enter the building, two stories of
tropical greenery and a cascading fountain of modern design.

There's been a problem: the extremely lush growth of the first couple of years
has not merely slowed, it has declined. After checking and testing an assortment
of possibilities it was discovered that behind the curtain fabric the aluminum piping
that supplies the hydroponic nutrients to the bare-root plants has been slowly
poisoning them. The wall will be deconstructed, aluminum pipes replaced with
plastic, and the planted wall will be reinstalled. That's dedication, don't you think.

The building was impressive, to say the least. Not merely ecofast, it is visually pleasing. The attractive, softly wave / curved wall panels of recycled plastic with linear inlaid pattern of reed-like grasses. Carpet laid in tile-like squares, easily taken up and replaced if one becomes stained or torn. The warm honey of unpainted wood on walls and ceilings.

Outdoors it is somewhat a different story. Not so much the design. My snarking is at the plant choices that were made. Fine that it was restricted to plants native to Chester County. But there is more than mere geography when it comes to choosing plants. If the goal is sustainability and environmental responsibility then in addition to geography, simplified maintenance, and attractive appearance, how about attracting butterflies and birds? For example: There is, as you would expect, a parking lot for employees that is also used by customers at the discount shoe store. (Second snark. We weren't given time to shop. Hurried off to the next stop.) There is also an area for anticipated future overflow parking. Turf blocks, hollow concrete pavers, allow grass to grow in the center while the weight of traffic is supported on the concrete. Not for daily use, but someone was thinking ahead for the occasional well-attended event.


The regular parking lot has a nicely designed bioswale to handle water runoff.
Planted with a group of shrubby dogwoods, another of rudbeckia, attractive
grasses, and also eastern blue star, Amsonia tabernaemontana, which is not.
a non-Chester County native. If prairie coneflower, Echinacea purpurea,
was planted instead of blue star, it would would attract butterflies, lots of them.
As does gayfeather, Liatris spicata, with the additional benefit of seeds that
goldfinches and other small birds like even better than expensive niger seed.

There's a meadow style planting at the back of the property, towards the highway. It's early days, and apparently it's unkempt appearance is under discussion. Dansko is apparently a great client as regards this situation, but there is concern that something needs / will need to be done to get things on track. Some fascinating concepts. Gardens grow with the fourth dimension, that of time. I'd love to come back and see this in a few more years. However now it is off to the Stroud Water Research Center, the second stop on our PLNA tour.

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