While many in horticulture are looking to the export market as a way to boost sales, others are cultivating new markets in Tennessee to generate more green for green businesses.
Andy Sudbrock, owner of Nashville Natives Nursery and Southeast Green Roofs, is one such horticultural entrepreneur. He has created his own niche by growing and marketing an innovative rooftop module system made of native plants. Public and private developers who are committed to sustainable architecture work with Sudbrock’s company to custom design their green roof project, such as the 2,000-square-foot LiveRoof recently installed at the McCabe Community Center for Nashville Metro Parks.
“The green roof industry has very tangible environmental and financial benefits,” says Sudbrock, who operates both businesses from his 15-acre farm in Fairview. “They produce savings in winter heating and summer cooling costs, and they have a significant impact on storm water runoff because a successful green roof can capture 90 percent of a 1-inch rainfall. With many cities struggling with antiquated storm sewer systems and increased storm flows, green roofs can help to prevent existing infrastructure from getting overly stressed. Green roofs are very functional building components that also happen to be very beautiful.”
That beauty comes in the form of a variety of drought-tolerant plants, such as sedum, native wildflowers, and other low-growing, low-maintenance species that add visual interest, improve property value and boost pride in ownership.
Each rooftop is custom grown, Sudbrock explains, with plants chosen based on the climate and any challenges of the project’s location. Each 2-square-foot module is pre-grown at the nursery, and the complete roof is assembled on site. “You have a functioning green roof from the very first day,” he says.
For an industry that has felt the pinch of reduced landscape business due to fewer new houses and overall belt tightening by consumers, sustainable architecture provides a way to boost the bottom line while providing environmental benefits.
G. Dodd Galbreath, executive director of Lipscomb University’s Institute for Sustainable Practice, encourages the industry to embrace the economic opportunity that sustainable products provide.
“If I were in the nursery industry, I would be positioning my products as an answer for storm water runoff problems,” Galbreath says. “Plant material causes storm water to soak into the ground more quickly, to be stored more safely, to be consumed, and to evaporate into the air completely. If every roof and public space could be made into a kind of linear sponge by using plant material, you’re talking about substantially increasing the need for plant material and the sales for Tennessee growers.”