What better way to roof a house than with a carpet of exotic wildflowers grown on Inis Meain interspersed with sedum?
That's what occured to us as we dreamt up an environmentally friendly way of re-roofing an old farm shed that is being painstakingly restored.
The curse of modern farming techniques - herbicides, pesticides, deep plough tractors, ripped up hedgerows, are alien to Inis Meain, several several hundred varieties of wildflowers flourish here. Here on the most isolated of the Aran Islands, you can wander for hours among stone walls built by hand over centuries and be astonished by the array of wild flowers all around you.
They include Spring Gentian, Pyramidal Bugle, Dense-Flowered Orchid, Irish and Mossy Saxifrages, Purple Milk Vetch, Bird's Foot Trefoil, Mountain Pansy. All shades of Thrift, Bloody Cranesbill, Common Butterworth, marsh orchids, Mountain Everlasting, Ladies Mantle, Long stalked Cranesbill, wild Thyme, Field Gentian, stone Bramble, Spleenworts, Harts-0tongue, Rusty-back.
Along the north coast a long sandy beach contains sea rocket, se bindweed, sea holly and sea spurge. Ray's Knotgrass and Rock Samphine covers many rock faces.
In high summer the upper fields are a riot of Oxeye Daisy, Knapweed, Carline Thistle, Devil's Bit and Harebells along with Frog Orchids and Common Ladies Tresses.
There are many many more plants in this botanical paradise, some yet to be charted. What makes the island so rich in flora is that the Arans are a continuation of the limestone of the Burren, Co Clare. The little soil there is is rich and well drained and the rock keeps the land warm through then winter.
Look at a typical gryke and you might see a Mediterranean plant - the maidenhair fern for example - living within six inches of a plant more commonly found in alpine locations such as the bloody cranesbill.
We want to preserve all this biodiversity and so to the new roof.
Our cottage is a traditional rye thatched dwelling
The thatch is formed from individual handfulls or dornans of straw . its a skilled and labour intensive process which sadly is dying out all over Ireland. Inis Meain is one of the last redoubts of skilled thatchers and Synge's cottage (below) was recently restored with a full traditional rye thatch.
Read more here
We have watched the tin roof on an outlying shed deteriorate over the years and finally decided to turn it into a wilflife friendly living green roof planted Inis Meain wild flowers and plants. The outhouse is being sympathetically restored in the vernacular style by our neighbour Sean Faherty a gifted stone mason and all round craftsman.
This short video shows the disappearing art of thatching in Ireland
The farm shed before work began, August 2008
The Wildlife Roof and Hemp wall shed starts to take shape
Our neighbour Sean has been restoring this small outbuilding to the main cottage over the winter. The idea is to build a state of the art green building, complete with a living roof of Inis Meain wild flowers. But first Sean has had to raise the walls and install hefty rafters to take the weight of the sod roof. A plywood covering is in place awaiting delivery of a special waterproof membrane from Northern Ireland.
Here are a few images of the work in progress:click for larger images
Looking North towards Foul Sound and Inis Mor
From the West
Front of buiding
A Green Roof .....New England Style
The American Orchid Society began as a green roof club. American women on the Great Plains in the 1860's, mostly German, conducted contests called 'Das Schoenste Orchideenhaus,' in which women competed with displays of native buffalo orchids (now extinct due to the demise of bison wallows which was their only habitat), various fringed orchids, and other choice native plants.
The recent lack of green roofs is actually a gap in the ancient continuum of green roofing. Deep traditions of sod roofs, much elaborated upon with local gems, are common in Ireland, Britain,
Waterproof barrier must be placed between green roof drainage and the existing roof.
An air gap between the two roofs is needed to retard 'sweating' and excessive, constant moisture.
The total weight of the green roof, wet and planted, must not exceed to load per square foot the existing roof can bear.
The green roof must have sufficient drainage away from the underlying roof.
Plants you use must endure extremes of heat, sun, wind, and cold. Alpine and coastal plants are great candidates. Also, shallow-rooted plants work best.
Thanks to the New England Wildflower Society for their article
Watch below how we intend to insulate the walls of our Inis Meain shed. using hemp mixed with lime creates a breathable surface that should retain heat and eliminate dampness. Read here for more details on the process and materials involved.
Its a very simple and effective process as this short video explains.
If we decide to put help and lime on the outside of the adjoining cottage, we might use the Hempire solution detailed here.
One day we hope to install a stove like this, the Saey Cuig
Learn more about Green Roofs