Adjacent to the steep blooming hill came a markedly steep drop. More than forty-five feet down, it descended onto very unforgiving concrete. Here I stood, the crevasse to my right and a steep jaunt up to my left. Not the best place for someone who is petrified of heights. With knees knocking, I scrambled up the hill as fast as I could and tried not to picture tripping and falling. Yet, that’s what I get for eagerly following my co-workers onto one of the steepest living roofs in existence.
Yet it was worth the trip – the living roof that tops the new California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park is a marvel. Much more so close up. On a sunny day in August, the roof was a moving dance of green and orange. Made up of seven undulating hills on 2.5 acres, it mimics the seven hills of San Francisco. The two largest hills slope steeply over the dome of the planetarium and rainforest exhibit. The two hills are dotted with several skylights bathing the building below in natural light.
The 1.7 million native plants that make up the living roof are comprised of four perennial plants, and five annual wildflowers that bloom throughout the year leaving swatches of red, orange purple and yellow. The nine plants were chosen out of thirty varieties for their hardiness in the San Francisco climate. These plants will essentially grow wild without watering or fertilizing. It remains to be seen how often weeding will have to take place, however. We did not leave the roof empty-handed that day. I had at least five uprooted sunflower plants in my hands, found amongst the tidy tips and poppies. Weeding might soon become a favorite chore in the “Other duties as assigned” job description for Academy staff. Staff will not be the only ones to enjoy the roof, however. A platform is being built for public viewing. More on the roof can be found at http://www.calacademy.org/newacademy.
Cat Aboudara is the Special Projects Manager at California Academy of Sciences and works in the public programs division. The Academy is a wonderful fit for her because of her curiosity about the natural world and her experience in working with native California wildlife.