A New Living Roof for Esalen

By: Christina Dauenhauer
Christina-D

Christina Dauenhauer is a landscape designer, artist, and Grounds Manager at Esalen Institute….

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Rugged cliffs and the Pacific dominate the Esalen Hot Springs setting. Photo: Daniel Bianchetta

Rugged cliffs and the Pacific dominate the Esalen Hot Springs setting. Photo: Daniel Bianchetta

Soaking  in the natural hot springs is an integral part of any visit to the Esalen Institute. Laying in one of the stone tubs you can watch the waves of the Pacific crash onto the shore and enjoy the dynamic landscape of Big Sur. A living roof blends with this natural environment, provides year round interest, and contributes to the magical experience.

Overgrown bunch grass on the Esalen roof prior to renovation. Photo: Sam Molitas

Overgrown bunch grass on the Esalen roof prior to renovation. Photo: Sam Molitas

However, over the past 11 years conditions on the roof progressively declined. The original roof lining pulled away from the edge of the concrete due to poor adhesion and lack of a termination bar. And the aggressive roots of native bunch grass—the primary planting—were causing problems. As Grounds Manager at Esalen, I decided it was time to start over and create  a lasting and beautiful environment for bathers.

I contacted Lisa Lee Benjamin, an environmental design  consultant, and together we devised  a new planting plan and laid out the steps for renovation. My crew began  by removing the bunch  grass and eight yards of heavy soil in buckets. We carefully dug everything by hand to preserve the existing egg carton liner for the new roof.

We worked with D.J. Schramm of Green Convergence to repair the roof membrane using WetSuit, a water- based, odorless, two-part coating that could be sprayed directly over the existing roof and minimize waste. A quick-curing process allowed us to keep Esalen’s tubs open during repair.

Christina with a flat of Cuphea 'Strybing Sunset' and native dudleya cuttongs from a plant on the Esalen property. Photo: Robin Wilson

Christina with a flat of Cuphea ‘Strybing Sunset’ and native dudleya cuttongs from a plant on the Esalen property. Photo: Robin Wilson

With the roof repaired, our plans are to install new soil and plants this fall. We’re relying on a lovely mix of native and non-native plants that will withstand our coastal climate and a drip irrigation system that runs on unused hot springs water will keep the plants look- ing nice even through the dry season. The final result will be a calm, beautiful, and inspiring space where, throughout the year, you can soak in a tub or receive a massage while overlooking the mighty ocean.


The following plants thrive in our coastal conditions and were sourced through Annie’s Annuals:

•   Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)

•   California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

•   Beach Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis)

•   Cigar Plant (Cuphea sp.)

•   Native Dudleya produced from cuttings of a plant found on the property

•   Seaside Daisy (Erigeron glaucus)


 

Esalen's hot springs, baths, and massage tables in 2002. Photo: Daniel Bianchetta

Esalen’s hot springs, baths, and massage tables in 2002. Photo: Daniel Bianchetta

Resources:

Lisa Lee Benjamin

Environmental design consultant

www.lisaleebenjamin.com

 

Green Convergence Renewable Energy Solutions

www.greenconvergence.com

 

Annie’s Annuals

Specializing in rare and  unusual plants

www.anniesannuals.com