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VOL. 35 | NO. 3 | Friday, January 21, 2011

Love of native plants leads to green rooftops

By Hollie Deese

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When Mike Berkley and wife Terri Barnes first toured the 126-acre Fairview property that is now GroWild Inc., they never had the intention of making it the largest, all-native nursery in the Mid-South.

Maybe it was the 50 head of cattle standing where 5,000 trees now grow.

But once on the property, they felt a pull in that direction. They realized certain species would grow there that couldn’t survive in Nashville because of the elevation differences.

Berkley was managing a garden center at the time with an owner interested in doing more native species. But finding those species proved nearly impossible.

“Terri and I said, ‘You know what, there is some serendipity here, so let’s just bite the bullet and do this,’” Berkley says. “So we built a greenhouse and, the next thing you know, it snowballs.”

Sustainability came later, but only because it didn’t really exist before. Since beginning in 1997, GroWild has been at the forefront of cultivating native plant species and building green roofs and rain gardens.

“We were the first ones to put a green roof in the state of Tennessee,” he says. “We were the first ones to put in a rain garden years and years ago. And we have one of the largest solar set ups just recently installed back in the fall.”

Storm water mitigation is currently a hot topic and something Nashville residents became increasingly aware of after the May flood. Rain gardens collect the water that runs through hardscapes – roof, patio, sidewalks, driveway – and guide it back into the ground instead of an overly-burdened drainage system.

“I remember as a child having a lot of floodwaters around the Harpeth in Bellevue, but it receded quickly,” Berkley says. “A lot of it was soaked up into the ground. But when you have asphalt and concrete, you aren’t going to get that.”

They have installed seven green roofs to date, including the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark. Green roofs have numerous benefits, becoming natural habitats for plants and animals while cooling and humidifying the surrounding air. They can also reduce smog and storm water runoff and insulate the building to defray utility costs.

Plus, you have a garden on your roof.

“Green roofs, like all sustainable practices right now, are relatively new,” he says. “Nashville is not there yet, but the green movement is still growing. I think Nashville is becoming more of a target for sustainable practice, green movement and green building. The facts are out there, and people are curious about them.”

Berkley’s passion is clear as he talks about the work they do. Born and raised in Nashville, he is hoping to convert homeowners to his way of thinking when it comes to incorporating native species as well.

“We started just as a native plant nursery because we believed there were alternatives out there,” he says. “It just happened that those alternatives were right outside our front door and have been here for thousands of years. And a plant that has been here has been proven to work as a great food source for the local fauna but is eye candy for us, too.”

Name: Mike Berkley and Terri Barnes

Business: GroWild Inc., a wholesale nursery specializing in native plants, rain gardens and green roofs

Launched: 1997

Located: 7190 Hill Hughes Road, Fairview

Past projects: William J. Clinton Presidential Library, Little Rock, Ark., The Westview Condominiums, 8th Avenue, Nashville

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BUILDING PERMITS 0 0 0
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UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
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