The Plantscape Hall of Fame Inducts Jim Mumford

TPIE Plantscaping Hall of Fame Inductee Jim Mumford

i-Plants Plantscape Hall of Fame

We may all endure a lifetime of work, but very few of us are recognized for a lifetime of achievement. The people that stand out prove that passion and persistence are the keys to success.

When other people ask, “why?” they ask, “why not?”

Jim Mumford is one of these people with passion and persistence – and a love of plants. In his own words, “If I hear “no” or “that can’t be done” it means I try harder. I don’t give up easily.” 

In the span of 45 years, Jim has gone from plant & flower seller, to plant expert, to interior plantscaper to global biophilic design thought leader, mentor and educator.

He and his Good Earth Plants team have helped to create the trends that have shaped what biophilic design looks like today – both building with integrated vegetation and adding nature to the built environment, like living walls, moss walls and green roofs.

Jim was recently recognized by i-Plants Magazine for the work he’s done in an industry where it’s good to be green. He was inducted by Jan Goodman, President of Green Plants for Green Buildings, into the Plantscape Hall of Fame at the Tropical Plant International Expo in Tampa, Florida, along with good friend and colleague Bill Lyon.

Read the Awards issue of i-Plants Magazine to see the Plantscape Hall of Fame inductees

Plants at the California English restaurant bar

Plantscaping in an ‘overhead moment’ at the restaurant California EnglishTo see Jim’s handiwork, just take a tour of many large commercial settings in San Diego, from Qualcomm to the San Diego Zoo. Southern California medical buildings, Universities, condo buildings, retail stores, hotels, restaurants and luxury homes number among Good Earth Plant’s clients.

While San Diegans were thinking about green spaces as parks, Jim was thinking about other locations for green spaces. Here’s the story of how he brought the first commercial green roof to San Diego ~15 years ago.

Green Roof in San Diego by Good Earth Plant co

The original green roof at Good Earth Plant Company in Kearny Mesa, still growing strong after 15 years.

It Ain’t Easy Being Green: Green Roofs were a new concept in San Diego

Q: Jim, you were the very first person to obtain a permit on a green roof on an occupied commercial building in San Diego Co. and some thought it could not be done. What kind of hoops did you have to jump through?

A: The negativity was mainly on my building specifically. There were other examples of green roofs in San Diego at the time, but I had to stretch the definition to find them.

The SDSU track field is over a parking structure. The Orange Ave park is over the freeway, as is a deck at City College over C street. An industrial park in Del Mar and a home near SDSU fit the more traditional definition of a green roof on a building, although they are berm green roofs, meaning the building is built into a hillside and the vegetation continues onto the roof. You could walk right up onto them and fall off the other side!

When I approached city planning to seek a permit, San Diego city staffers had never heard of such a thing. They crowded around to see the images I brought to help explain what I was doing. They then told me simple drawings, weight load verification and drainage location were all they needed.

Q: Is there special permitting?

A: Yes – this is still the only permit I know of for a green roof. All the others are permits for buildings that include a green roof. Part of that reason is that a retrofit on an existing building is nearly impossible without extensive engineering upgrades. I got lucky on my building only needing some minor upgrades.

Q: Are the plants growing in soil?

A: Yes, 3” of custom blended growing medium.

Q: Does a green roof really save money on heating & air?

A: Yes. Through the growing process called evapotranspiration plants give off heat in water vapor as we give off heat by sweating. A traditional black roof can be upwards of 150 degrees at peak sun in July. A green roof will be closer to 80 degrees. I cannot give an R rating (insulation) for a green roof as much depends upon the depth of the soil, level of saturation and plant coverage. Our energy bill went down 23% the first year over the preceding year.

Two of the other best benefits of a green roof is the biodiversity that it attracts and processing rain water.

Q: How many years has it lasted?

A: Mine was built in 2007. Many last dozens of years and in Norway – hundreds of years.

Q: What kind of maintenance do you have to do?

A: As little as possible. Some weeding, some pruning and very little fertilizer

Learn more about Green Roofs

Since 2007, Jim and Good Earth Plants have worked with commercial builders, developers and even homeowners to give their building a green roof, or to bring natural elements to the rooftop.

Read more about the benefits of green roofs and how they work in San Diego

Read all the issues of i-Plants Magazine