The roof garden at 401 Richmond provides a much loved urban oasis amidst the towering development in Downtown Toronto.
“If you think a guy can’t grow things on the roof, you’ve never seen my eaves and you have never been on top of 401 Richmond. It is Eden minus the snake up there”
– Joe Fiorito, The Globe and Mail, May 2002
“In a building where the creative arts flower, perhaps it’s fitting that the once-sterile roof is flowering as well. What’s even more incredible is that this lush, verdant oasis has been achieved by one man – not a horticulturalist, but a building manager with a newly minted green thumb – in less than 10 years”
– Canadian Gardening Magazine, Summer 2004
The roof garden began in informally back in 1995 through the efforts of former Property Manager, Mike Moody, a plant aficionado and seasoned gardener. Already a treasured gathering space for tenants, it has evolved into a 6,500 square foot cedar deck, resplendent with flowers, vines and bushes, and a lush blanket of sedum that covers nearly 3,000 square feet of roof beyond the deck. There are also a number of large planters that hold trees and perennial shrubs that winter on the roof. This fabulous outdoor space offers a downtown view that includes the CN Tower.
The roof garden’s cedar deck provides many benefits for the building. It creates an air pocket over part of the third floor roof, which not only helps to protect the roof membrane from stretching during temperature fluctuations, but also provides a layer of winter insulation for the studios underneath in the colder months, while providing shade and serving to cool the studios in the summer months. The trees and shrubs on the roof garden also work to mitigate air pollution by trapping particulates and absorbing gaseous emissions from the busy streets below. Similarly, the many plants trap and hold rainfall that prevents polluted stormwater runoff from leaving the roof.
The most rewarding aspect of the garden, however, is its social value for the tenant community. The 401 roof garden has become a relaxing destination that provides a lovely meeting place for lunch breaks, celebrations, or just a place to rejuvenate in a green oasis. People can enjoy a bit of quiet respite as the trees and plants provide insulation from urban noise pollution. Shade cloth over the pergola, that holds many hanging baskets, trees and shrubs, also provides shelter from the hot sun.
Our dedicated maintenance team puts many hours into hand-watering and caring for the plants, working year round to ensure that the garden is a marvel in all seasons. The plants and flowers in the roof garden have been selected for beauty, aroma and their ability to attract birds, bees, butterflies, ladybugs, and other insects. Over the years, we’ve been able to grow a variety of organic fruits, vegetables and other edibles on the roof in an informal way as part of our on-going interest in urban agriculture. In seasons when we’ve been able to grow a decent amount of food, we were able to create a food loop. Vegetables from the garden were being used in the café on the ground floor, the café would then contribute organic scraps to our compost bins, which would feed the vegetables and on it went. We are hoping to once again turn these efforts into a self-sustaining urban agriculture project in the near future!
Extensive Green Roof
In September 2005, an additional 2,600 square feet of garden was added to cover a blank section of roof to the east of the deck. This area of greenery is called an extensive green roof; quite different from the boxes of flowers and shrubs, this installation is composed of a carpet of sedum plants and sits directly on the rooftop, rather than being perched atop a deck.
Extensive green roofs are lightweight and easy to install. This greenery provides a lovely extension to the roof garden and adds to the sense of being in a natural landscape. There are also small 100 square foot green roofs on two of the existing heritage skylights – no roof is too small to green! These smaller prototypes are more accessible for visitors to see this green roof technology.
An extensive green roof on the building supports a number of structural, environmental, and building benefits including:
- Protects roof membrane;
- respects structural load requirements of the heritage building;
- provides energy benefits for tenants in summer;
- attracts invertebrates and birds;
- reduces surface temperatures and thereby urban heat island effect;
- provides stormwater runoff improvements;
- reduces air pollution – particularly smog precursor; and,
- improves visual aesthetics for visitors and tenants.
The green roof installed on the roof of 401 Richmond is a Xero Flor roof. It is lightweight and is grown in a pre-seeded vegetated mat system on light sandy soil near Woodstock, Ontario. These vegetated mats can be cut to size and installed easily over a retrofit roof. Xero Flor originated in Germany in the early 1970’s and has been available across Canada and the United States for the last several years. The vegetated mat is made up of a fleece mat, a coiled plastic mattress where roots and planting media adhere, and plants that are predominately sedum species. If you would like more information on this product please visit www.xeroflorcanada.ca. 401 Richmond is pleased to feature this green technology as another means of acting locally to promote urban revitalization (environmental and social), tenant enjoyment, and heritage building conservation.
Urbanspace Property Group is the recipient of a 2008 Green Toronto Award for our roof garden at 401 Richmond St. W.
Our roof garden has been named Lesley’s Garden to honour and celebrate the life of a dear friend and colleague Lesley Soden.
Lesley was instrumental in the development of 401 Richmond Street West. She was a community builder, a visionary, and dedicated to making this building a thriving arts destination, a goal that has been fully realized. Lesley was responsible for inaugurating the 401 Richmond Update Newsletter, a publication that remains a cornerstone of the building community. She also drew some of the first anchor tenants to the building, many of whom still call 401 home more than 20 years later.
Lesley was multi-talented, smart, and deeply creative. She had great integrity, a huge heart, and a strong spirit. She brought all those forces together in the creation of the community at 401.
The garden was created by Lesley’s partner Mike Moody. It is a special space for Lesley and is a glowing reflection of Mike’s care and dedication.
Interested in the progress of the roof garden over the years? Check out our blog Old Plant, New Plant.