Eco-restoration refers to activities that replace, rejuvenate, or rebuild the natural ecology that may have existed before the bricks and mortar of a building pushed out the natural elements. Vertical gardens, green roofs, biowalls, plants, and trees are just some of the eco-restorative elements we have brought to our buildings.
In the spring of 2006 we undertook a large tree planting project at 401 Richmond planting 15 trees around the perimeter of the rear parking lots. We preserved the existing trees that provided a good older growth canopy and the only shade and protection to the southern face of the building. Coupled with the additional trees that were added, our micro-forest is now significantly reducing the temperature around the building and solar gain on our south-facing windows.
Urban heat island effect is an issue in urban areas that are dominated by parking lots, roads, and bare rooftops where heat from the sun is absorbed into these dark surfaces and then radiated out into the atmosphere raising the temperature. A common (and harmful) way of combatting this is to turn up air-conditioning, which only serves to contribute to the amount of heat being released into the atmosphere, not to mention the drain on elecrticity. By greening some of these surfaces, we reduce this effect and help cool the surrounding area considerably. Not only does this mean potential energy savings in the reduction of air-conditioning but just generally a more pleasant environment for people and animals.
Our trees are doing very well in spite of the tricky conditions in which they were planted. A long channel has been dug providing lots of soil space for the roots to spread. Getting the trees established took lots of care, attention, and water in the first months of their planting. As the tree canopy grows and provides increased shade to the area surrounding the trees roots, the better, and stronger the tree will grow. The trees begin to create the conditions in which they will thrive.
Vertical Gardens + Vines
In July of 2003 we hosted a unique installation of “vertical gardens” or perpendicular hydroponic planting systems in our roof garden. These hand shaped, vertically styled, vertical planters were in place for an open-house hosted by chief designer Brad Peterson from Environmental Management and Landscape Architecture. Vertical garden systems can support both flowers and vegetables including lettuces, kale, cabbage, and cherry tomatoes to name but a few. The vegetables can be interspersed between species of flowering plants including ferns, spider plants, lilies, palms, ficus, nicotiana, or even strawberries.
One of the vertical gardens remains at 401 Richmond in the management office and is made of four white rows of tubular shaped PVC hang on a wooden frame holding colourful tropical plants. The plants themselves are supported in small cavities drilled into the PVC tubes filled with a synthetic pebbled medium that offers an anchor for the plants roots. The plants are fed a steady supply of circulating water from a submersible pump located in a water reservoir below.
Vertical gardens are gaining interest in urban areas where ground level property for planting is diminishing. 401 Richmond, like many historic urban buildings, is covered in another form of vertical garden – vines. The vine growing at the front entrance to the building (and those in the courtyard) is estimated to be almost as old as the structure itself and wraps the facade of the building providing aesthetic charm and energy benefits in both summer and winter. Vine leaves provide summer shading of the bricks beneath and act to reduce the solar gain or high temperatures that normally flow through the wall to interior spaces. Conversely, in winter, remaining stems and twigs after autumn leaf fall serve to break direct wind patterns and redistribute cold air away from small cracks in the brick’s mortar.
In the fall of 2010 the City of Toronto installed a sidewalk along the Richmond St. side of our building where there had never been one before. We worked very hard to convince The City to plant trees as part of the new boulevard and were thrilled to see them go in. You can read all about how the sidewalk was constructed, including an update on how our trees are doing, by visiting the Sidewalk Files.