The wind was blowing hard and gusty and I kept losing my balance and feeling as if I'd blow off the roof any minute. The plants on the roof had been dealing for four years with a fierce combination of constant wind (sometimes gale force wind), searing summer heat and sub-zero days in winter with no insulation around their roots. It was time to make changes.
The location is the pavilion at The Brenton Arboretum near Dallas Center, Iowa, a mere 14 years old but fast becoming a great public garden with an ambitious collection of native and exotic trees growing in groves across hundreds of acres of rolling former prairie.
Jennifer Bousselot, a green-roof specialist at Iowa State University, was visiting for a consultation about the plants and soil on the roof, along with two of her grad students. We propped up a ladder and climbed to the roof, with the wind trying to knock us off. Andy Schmitz, who has planted almost every tree at the Arboretum over the last fourteen years, who is rapidly becoming a national figure in the study and propagation of Kentucky coffee trees and Osage orange trees, pulled up the ladder and laid it flat on the apron of the roof while explaining that he'd learned not to leave the ladder propped against the roof after he climbed it. He had been stranded three times when the wind blew the ladder down. He called for help with his cell phone, but this time we were the only people on the grounds.
Once we were on the roof, with the ladder safe behind us, we hung on for half an hour with the wind blowing at maybe thirty mph and the temperature around 40 degrees. The photos show you the plants and soil we studied and a bit of the vast lands arounds us, where the wind was making the grasses move like swells on the ocean. We froze. My lips went numb and I could barely talk.
But it was good. We came away with ideas for plants to try and ways to anchor the soil a bit better. Thank you, Jennifer.