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A Trip to Emory Knoll

by Jane Winkel

It was a beautiful day for a trip to Emory Knoll. It was (still is) early spring; it was a Friday; it was sunny. I stopped for gas before driving onto I-95, and ran through a list of sedum species trying to recall the habit of each as I pumped a full tank of mid-grade. Lost in thoughts – plants, unpaid bills, directions to the nursery, I neglected to notice the defective pump for about 3 seconds too long. The auto-stop-at-full feature had ceased to function and fuel was dripping into a clear slippery puddle at my feet. I presented my credit card and my complaint to the attendant and she casually offered a complimentary car wash.

Ed Snodgrass, Emory Knoll founder has been in the business of plants for most of his life and he has written a number of books that are must reads for those interested in green roofing. His book Green Roof Plants is regularly consulted within the Roofmeadow office.


The preeminent plantsman in one of his many species specific hot houses

The nursery is full of plants for sale to the green roof trade, although upon approach the farm stands out because of the swath of bamboo that serves as a screen from road traffic. Dramatic, beautiful and planted with a purpose the swath is a habitat and home for many birds and critters.

Ed is developing a potting mix that mimics the porosity of green roof media, but is made from waste products (coconut husk, rice hulls and some pine bark). Plants started in this media are less resistant to rooting out into green roof media when they are transplanted from the nursery to the roof. Low embedded energy and reuse of materials that would otherwise be headed to the landfill make the mix pretty darn sustainable.

Walking through the cutting beds, which contain plants that have been started from seed, I wondered about the possibility of spreading sedum seed on roofs (an infrequent practice in the green roof biz). To achieve germination seeds must be sown on a cool misty early spring day when the conditions are just so.

The selection of Sedum album which was collected from sites around the globe, is remarkable because of the variability in color, size and shape from plant to plant. Because of this collection, Emory Knoll can provide plants with a provenance that is similar to that of a projects’ climate.


Photo by Ed Snodgrass, ‘Women in the Fields’ taken while plant hunting in Morocco

I was lucky enough to receive a Senecio jacobsenii ‘Trailing Jade’ plug and a cutting of the loveliest peach tinted Echeveria from the hothouse, which contains particular plants of uncommon beauty. In return I shared a bag of my turmeric sea salt walnuts.


‘Senecio jacobsenii ‘Trailing Jade’


Peach tinted Echeveria from which I have a cutting – a cutting that has begun to sprout roots!

If you time it right the drive is about 1.5 hours from Philadelphia, (if you time it wrong plan to spend an extra hour sitting in traffic on I-95). Once you are off the highway, expect a scenic drive through rural Maryland. In a town called Dublin, you even pass a pasture with goats and mini ponies (tiny tiny thigh high ponies!).

Emory Knoll accepts visitors by appointment. I recommend visiting the farm to see a radiant collection of plants, the Emory Knoll green roof and the adjacent 15 year old solar array.


Old solar panel with fresh palm print

The llama skull planted in the bathtub with Echeveria eyes and the jointed femur & tibia are just an extra special added touch to the Emory Knoll landscape.


Llama bath


Llama skull, Echeveria eye and Sedum album bubbles


An early spring view from the Emory Knoll green roof as the plants begin to break free from winter dormancy

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