Rooftop and Urban Gardens Conference here

Rooftop and Urban Gardens Conference here

By Shellie Berg

By Shellie Berg

Staff Reporter

Want to know how or if you can build a garden on your roof, in front of your business or on a deck? On June 16, the River District’s Rooftop & Urban Gardening Conference will provide the answers.

Many have wondered why rooftop gardens have long been a tradition in Europe but were slow to grow in the United States. Such gardens have been fashionable on the East and West coasts for some time, and now the trend for expanded urban greenscapes has arrived in the Midwest. In fact, Mayor Daley commissioned a rooftop garden for Chicago’s City Hall, and its designers and installers are the keynote speakers at the River District’s conference from 1-5 p.m. June 16 at State of Illinois Building (Zeke Giorgi Building), 200 S. Wyman. Admission is $5 at the door.

Gardening experts and consultants will provide tips on the use of flat-top roofs, and containers for roof edges, patios, decks, window sills, hanging baskets and street side units.. The event is designed to raise awareness of creative gardening and to encourage people locally to install greenery that increases the uses and attractiveness of buildings and various city spaces.

“We are amazed at the enthusiastic response we have had from the whole Rockford community,” said Kim Wheeler, executive director of the River District Association. “This is the first such conference we have ever tried, and we think it is the first of this exact type ever held. But most of the exhibition, display and seminar information will be useful to any kind of gardening, so people are eager to be a part of it.”

Ready to answer questions, these seven experts will provide exhibits and seminars:

l David Yocca, designer of Mayor Daley’s Chicago City Hall Green Roof Garden. Ron Rediger and Ed Jarger of American Hydrotech, Inc., supervisors of the installation of the garden.

l Luke Barros, manager of the Home and Garden Depot at Home Depot, and installer of Chicago’s Regents Park Tower’s one and one-third-acre garden. The garden includes a waterfall, trees and a lake four stories above Lake Shore Drive.

l Richard Hynes, designer of Rockford’s own Klehm Arboretum Botanical Education Center, with Norm Meyer, who served as structural engineer.

l Joe Zimmer, project manager for the Coronado Theatre Restoration Project, with Norm Meyer, the structural engineer of the project.

l Barbara Larson, who teaches gardening classes for master’s students with the University of Illinois Extension Program, will also be on hand to answer questions.

A medley of gardens will be on display, and exhibitors from various garden centers, nurseries and landscape designers will be available.

In addition, the event will feature an actual rooftop garden display, set up on the bank of the Rock River. Exhibitors will have merchandise for sale as well.

‘We’re even going to have one, large sample of what a rooftop garden could be, without the dirt,” said Bill Beard, a member the River District’s board of directors, and the conference chairman. “Everything happening at that conference will apply to anybody interested in creative ideas in space other than the front yard.

“We sent formal letters to 75 flat-roof building owners in the Rockford area and invited them to come and find out what they can do with their roof. We are aware of many black-tar rooftops.

“The River District is involved in anything that will help beautify downtown Rockford and any urban area. We are interested in following the European and New York traditions. Rockford wants to stay right up there with the rest of the times … to beautify downtown Rockford and to beautify places where people work and live,” Beard said.

Fellow board member and Marketing Committee Chairman, Frank Schier, saw an article on the Chicago City Hall Rooftop garden in the Chicago Tribune and brought the idea before the committee and the board.

“The marketing committee, especially Bill Beard and his subcommittee, Lynn Rode, Sally Bradley, Don Bissell, Diane Koch and Lori Gustafson, have been amazing in gathering the resources for what is sure to be an excellent event.

“Renters, homeowners, as well as business owners will get some great ideas and facts about codes and regulations from our speakers, exhibitors and city officials,” Schier said.

Home and business owners who already have pioneered rooftop decks and gardens in the River District include: Suzanne Kaufman, Deb Newton and Joe Zimmer, John and Marilyn Lamar, Doug Busch, Dan Ford and Mike Wright.

Several other projects are underway in the River District. Morrissey Realty Group has built a deck on the roof of their building at 127 N. Wyman St., and they plan to expand it with container gardens. Greg and Lulu Watt have a large garden under construction on the roof of their Old Farmer Rug Building loft apartment. The Watt loft was featured on Home and Garden TV’s Extreme Homes program.

President of the River District’s Board of Directors Sarah Skorija said, “This is River District’s attempt to add to the marvelous work being done by the Rockford Park District’s very successful ‘City of Gardens’ program.”

To further such endeavors city wide, the conference is sponsored by the River District and funded in part by the Rockford Community Foundation, Home Depot and National City Bank, and Kyle and Marge Bevers. State of Illinois Regional Facilities Manager and Winnebago County Board Member John Sweeney (R-14), and Illinois Senator Dave Syverson (R-34) facilitated the use of the Giorgi Building.

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