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Living Without Limits

Podcast # 7: Gingkos, green roofs and gardens…oh my!

From an abundance of green spaces and gardens to Arboretum status, Geoff Roehll of Hitchcock Design Group discusses how his company’s elaborate landscaping plans for The Arboretum Villas will be a natural wonder for walkers and fisherman alike.

FOLLOWING IS A TRANSCRIPT OF OUR PODCAST

Nitsa Foundos:
Hello. Welcome to Living Without Limits, our fun and informative podcast about the Arboretum Villas at Plymouth Place in La Grange Park, Illinois. I’m your host, Nitsa Foundos. And joining me today is Geoff Roehll, a senior principal at Hitchcock Design Group in Naperville, Illinois. He and his company are responsible for our amazing landscaping plan and so much more. Welcome, Geoff.

Geoff Roehll:
Thanks, Nitsa.

Nitsa Foundos:
You have such an interesting background, Geoff, from being an instructor for the Therapeutic Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden to speaking at national healthcare conferences. Can you tell us a bit more about yourself and Hitchcock design?

Geoff Roehll:
Sure. Hitchcock Design Group is a landscape architecture firm, as you mentioned, in Naperville, just 30 minutes from here. And we’re fortunate to be a partner with this new project here at the Arboretum Villas. It’s going to be a fantastic opportunity. My career started back… My dad and my grandfather were both physicians.

Nitsa Foundos:
No kidding.

Geoff Roehll:
I was in the healthcare industry and senior living communities from a very young age. And so-

Nitsa Foundos:
What kind of doctors were they?

Geoff Roehll:
He was a cardiologist. He fixed broken hearts.

Nitsa Foundos:
Oh.

Geoff Roehll:
So through that involvement of going to these healthcare facilities, when I started at Hitchcock Design Group 32 years ago, we looked at our business a little differently. And so I lead the group that focuses exclusively in senior living communities. And so when there’s a senior living community that is interested in a landscape plan, they typically call me and we try to help them out. And it’s more than, as we like to say, it’s more than parsley around the meatloaf.

Geoff Roehll:
The landscape architecture in these campuses is quite complex. And you’re incorporating the tons of outdoor amenities because these senior living communities are almost like giant cruise ships. And so we take these experiences, and we collectively bring them into the studio, and we problem solve. And it’s been a fun ride so far, and this is going to be one of the better ones.

Nitsa Foundos:
I think you’ve heard me mention, on the weekly calls that we have, is that we’re attracting those in their late sixties and up. I mean, it’s a very interesting twist in the industry, but I think it relates to the hybrid home that we’ve developed, the products specs, but most importantly what you and your team have put together. So with that said, tell us about the initial phase of the project.

Geoff Roehll:
Plymouth Place and its staff and residents worked with the Arboretum, the Morton Arboretum, to get an inventory of the existing landscape. And that was incredibly helpful. Having that at our resources from the very beginning gave us a really good tool. And during that process, Plymouth Place discovered that they have such diversity on their current campus, that they are eligible for a Level I Arboretum status, which is the way that the Arboretum can honor non-for-profits. With the Morton Arboretum and arbor.net org is the organization that says, “If you have at least 25 diverse species, you qualify for that status.” Now, after we’re done with construction, we can then apply for this arboretum.

Geoff Roehll:
So we had really good backbones to work with. And probably my favorite story on that was as we inventoried the existing trees, we stumbled upon literally the 120-year-old Ginkgo tree that was out there.

Nitsa Foundos:
That’s right.

Geoff Roehll:
And it’s got a large caliper to it. The form of it is terrific. And they’re very, very slow growing, and they’re considered a prized species. However, the design of the site plan put new building construction within feet of the root system, and that was going to be a problem. And so here we are, the landscape architects, and we’re taking a look at the overall site plan that we got from the civil engineers and from the architects. And I said, what if we took the entire site plan and shifted it north 30 feet? And the team was like, “What?”

Nitsa Foundos:
What?

Geoff Roehll:
“What are you talking about?”

Geoff Roehll:
And fortunately, everybody looked at it with an open mind. Fortunately for us, it was just a happy coincidence, that the tree gods were looking out for the Ginkgo.

Nitsa Foundos:
So you talked a little bit about green roof and I don’t think our listeners really quite understand the concept of a green roof. And in relation to the Arboretum Villas, could you explain that a little bit in more detail?

Geoff Roehll:
Sure. One of the top manufacturers of green roof technologies, their headquarters is in downtown Chicago. So that industry really has blossomed. And the idea of a green roof is that you’re growing plant media on lightweight soils on a roof. And that soil can be very thin profiles. Some of the profiles are as thin as two inches.

Geoff Roehll:
There’s three different categories of green roofs that we like to call. There’s the functional green roof that would sit on top of a roof that nobody might ever see, unless you’re in Southwest Airlines flying over the building. They do provide environmental benefit though because they reduce the heat influx of buildings, and there’s other benefits as well.

Geoff Roehll:
There’s another type of green roof that is visible but not accessible. So that might be a roof that one of the rooms would look down into, but nobody can get out and interact with that.

Geoff Roehll:
And then there’s the ones that people can get out and interact within. We call those roof gardens and the roof garden is something that can be a special space. It’s captured area on a roof. And at Arboretum Villa, the entire top deck of the new proposed parking structure is going to be this green roof terrace. So it’s a place where we can have added new amenity space, but make it look like a garden setting. Now in these types of green roofs, the soil media is anywhere from eight inches thick up to two feet thick. We actually have small flowering ornamental trees that can survive in that environment.

Geoff Roehll:
So we’ll have plants like redbud and serviceberry on this roof terrace. But it’s captured amenity space for the residents to enjoy. So off of the community rooms that they have on that level, there’ll be pathways that can lead you into the garden space. Everything is accessible, there’s no steps. We’ll have comfortable furniture. So, you’ll have kind of patio spaces on the roof terrace. We want choices. We want, on a nice day when it’s 75 degrees, we want a spot you might want to go sit in the sun. But on a day like today, where it might be a little muggy, you want to find a good shady spot.

So, there’s three shade pergolas that will cover those seating areas. Two of the seating areas have built in barbecue stations. So you can do outdoor grilling. We’ve actually got a total of three grills that’ll be on this patio space with appropriate moveable furniture. So if you wanted to host your family over for a Friday night dinner, you can use the community room, come out, set up your little barbecue, and have those tables reserved. So it’s a great amenity space.

In addition to that, we’ve allocated, because we have this indoor golf simulation room, we thought it’d be a great idea to have a real putting surface. So we have an artificial putting green that’s going to be located up there. So if the grandkids came by, you could go out and there’ll actually be holes in the putting green. And you can actually putt around.

In all this new hardscape and these amenities spaces is all surrounded by lush new landscape. So a variety of different perennials, and shrubs, and these flowering trees is really going to make that feel, not like a rooftop. It’s going to feel more like a garden.

Nitsa Foundos:
I love the fact that they’re going to be blooming in different seasons, different parts of the year, right?

Geoff Roehll:
Yeah.

Nitsa Foundos:
So at every given point you’re going to see something in bloom with the exception of our heavy winters.

Geoff Roehll :
When we do our planting design, we think in all four seasons. So even though we have harsh winters here, we try to find foliage or branching that has ornamental characteristics. Like some of the red twig dogwood has very, very colorful dogwood branches on it. And so that’s something that we’re paying attention to, is what does it look like in early spring? What does it look like in early summer?

Nitsa Foundos:
Well you’ve inspired many of the residents that already are plant lovers to ensure that the greenhouse that will be on the grounds, it’s like a structure all on its own. Can you talk a little bit about the inspiration behind that?

Geoff Roehll:
Well, the idea of creating a solarium, or a place where you could, it happens to be halfway from the journey from Plymouth Place to the Arboretum Villas through this condition link. Which I think is a good strategic move because it’s a nice stopping spot, but it’s directly across from the resident vegetable garden area. So we have now this neat opportunity where residents could go grow their tomato plants from seed. And then that next spring, walk out the door and go over to the outdoor garden space and plant their tomatoes or peppers or what they grew.

Nitsa Foundos:
Okay, Geoff. So I have a question for you. How does this project differ from other projects that you’ve worked on?

Geoff Roehll:
That’s a great question. I mean, probably the biggest difference is the number of amenities all in one location. The property is big enough that we can fit almost every fun idea that you want to have in an outdoor space from pickleball courts to the outdoor resident gardens. We’ve got other outdoor areas that have the bocce courts that are going to be accessible. You’ve got seating areas that will have fire pits and shade structures. And probably one of my favorite improvements on this, that a lot of people don’t really realize is going to happen, is the changes to the existing pond. The existing pond was already a little gem.

Geoff Roehll:
Because of construction of Arboretum Villas, they’re going to have to do some improvement to that pond for new requirements. And we’re taking advantage of that pond being dewatered, they’re going to pump the water out, and reconfiguration the shape of it, make it almost double the size.

Nitsa Foundos:
Oh, I’m so excited. I can’t wait.

Geoff Roehll:
Right. So, because we’re going to the trouble of doing that. There’s two things and, Nitsa, you might not even be aware, but we’re talking about integrating wetland filters within the pond. There’s a group called Aquascape. And Aquascape is a aquatic management company, here locally in Chicago. And they’re claimed to fame, they’re known for the backyard koi ponds. But they got some new technologies that they’ve been testing at Lincoln Park Zoo, where they had an old scum pond and they put in one of these wetland filters. And within one season, the water went from green murky water to crystal clear water.

Nitsa Foundos:
No way.

Geoff Roehll:
And we’re creating some deeper pockets of water. So we can harbor fish over winter. So we need water that’s on average around five to seven feet deep to make sure that the fish can winter over.

Nitsa Foundos:
So will our residents be able to actually throw a pole, a line over, and fish?

Geoff Roehll:
Absolutely. We plan on having walking paths surrounding the pond. And now instead of a dead end, you will be able to walk and continuously walk all the way around the pond and get back home.

Nitsa Foundos:
I don’t think people realize that we’re on 17 acres. I think you’ve hit a home run there, Geoff. I think that you can pat yourself on the back, along with all of our other invested stakeholders. You’ve done a phenomenal job, and can’t wait to see the end result,
So Geoff, anything else interesting you’d like to add?

Geoff Roehll:
Sure. I got one other space that I forgot to mention and I’m really excited about it. The residents were so concerned about preserving the history of the existing east campus, that they went out there and they collected some perennials.

So, one of the residents came up with an idea of creating a heritage garden to honor the history of the east campus. And so we’ve created this heritage garden, and we have plans in that for where those new perennials can be located. In addition to that, we are also having the contractor, as they demo the old cottages, to preserve several bricks. And we’re going to be using that brick and repurposing them into these low seat walls and a decorative column that could be a memorial as a history to the former residents who used to live there. So I think that heritage garden, it’s going to be at the southwest end of the pond. So it’s overlooking the pond. It’ll be a terrific amenity.

Nitsa Foundos:
What does that say to you about the residents that live here?

Geoff Roehll:
It’s their home.

Nitsa Foundos:
It is. It’s their home and they’re proud of it. And they want to retain the history of it all. That means something to them. And it means everything to us, as well.

Well, I really thank you so much, Geoff, for joining me today. If you’d like to see our beautiful floor plans and finishes in person, stop by our design center at 26 South La Grange Road in downtown La Grange. We are open Monday through Saturday from 9 to 5:30. You can reach us at 708-482-6634 or visit arboretumvillas.org and check out our events page for upcoming lunch or dinner presentations.

Thank you so much, everyone, for tuning into Living Without Limits. We look forward to talking with you again. Until then, I’m Nitsa Foundos.

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