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House Talk

No. 29 - September, 2008

Rooftop Eco-Friendly Garden
A talk with Lauren Schneider

Judith Glass and Sheila Sabine are always excited to see new and innovative homes in the local East Bay market. The most recent example is the fabulous new home on Margarido Drive built by the talented Mike McDonald. This 4,600 square foot home, located in upper Rockridge, represents the latest in eco-friendly materials and design promoted by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED.) Mike is hoping to win the LEED-H Platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. This exciting home is the result of a collaborative team effort by local innovative artists. One of these talented people is Lauren Schneider, owner of Wonderland Garden and Landscape.

Lauren and her husband, Mike Dwyer, actually met Mike McDonald on an airplane while flying back East. They soon realized how much they had in common and later become very involved in the Margarido project. Mike Dwyer acted as project manager and Lauren’s job as landscape designer was to create a “green roof” - a living rooftop garden - a task she found both fun and challenging. Recognizing that the climate of the East Bay is like that of the Mediterranean with cool, wet winters and hot dry summers, Lauren has a special affinity for working with drought-tolerant plants. There are so many varieties such as cacti, succulents, salvia, grasses, lavender and sedums. A roof has its own specific criteria involving a rectangular plane and lots of strong angles. With the roof’s exposure to the elements such as strong sun, rain, and wind, Lauren was well aware that her choice of materials had to be sturdy as well as attractive.

Lauren began the intricate steps of laying the foundation for the garden from the bottom up. The roof was sealed with PVC membrane followed by a soft yet durable plastic drainage mat. Next came a capillary fabric - a sponge-like material that holds water – and then a drip irrigation grid. After that, a geo-textile filter fabric, a drainage layer of horticulture pumice, planting medium (coconut coir, sand, pumice, and fertilizers), and finally a additional, temporary drip irrigation to help the plants get established.

Now for the fun part -- the plants. Lauren began weaving her tapestry of living plants, choosing several varieties of groundcover sedums, some perennials, lavender, salvia and grasses. She likes to choose plants that have pleasant smells and will attract wildlife such as hummingbirds and butterflies. She feels that a garden should be a visual and sensual experience. She also enjoys working with rock, adding interesting volcanic rocks to the roof garden giving it an almost “moonscape” look.

So, what’s it like - viewing the Margarido roof top garden? Well, it is definitely a WOW experience. The access to the garden is by way of a 60-foot-long steel staircase, designed by local metal smith, Chris French. Upon arrival one is greeted by astounding panoramic views of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge - with a deck area for relaxing and enjoying the amazing scenery. The living garden displays its own authentic beauty, buzzing with bees, hummingbirds and a collage of plants and grasses. It also has a very practical aspect as it also acts as an insulating layer that cools the house or conserves heat, depending on the time of year.

Based on her experience as a landscape designer, Lauren shared the following practical advice.

  • Regard the use of drought-tolerant plants as a fun challenge rather than a limiting experience
  • Realize that we are moving into a different era where energy conservation is a high priority.
  • Choose plants that inspire you and help you connect with nature. There are plants of every size, color and shape imaginable.
  • Lastly, consider having a consultation to decide what options you have. The garden is a place for human beings, nature and wildlife to come together in a positive way. Allow the consultant to help you explore different ideas and possibilities.

To learn more about Lauren Schneider , you may contact her at wonderlandgarden@sbcglobal.net or call her at 510-836-3990.

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