As Mt. Cuba Center’s conservation efforts expand, so are its facilities for native plant research, propagation, and production. The Mid-Atlantic botanic garden, which focuses on the study and conservation of native flora throughout the region, will break ground on a new, sustainable greenhouse and associated plant production spaces later this month. Bancroft Construction will oversee the project with a goal to build one of the first greenhouses of its kind, running primarily on renewable energy.
“Designing a year-round production greenhouse that is net zero energy, meaning it creates as much energy as it uses over the course of a year, is quite a challenge but our team is up to the task,” says James Rockwell, greenhouse and nursery production manager. “Picture a huge glass box that you want to keep cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and you can easily imagine why this is difficult. We will use green energy sources, such as on-site solar power and geothermal heating and cooling, to reach our goal of net-zero energy.”
State-of-the-art technology and automation will drive the new 7,700 square foot greenhouse and 7,600 square foot head house support building, making each portion slightly smaller than a baseball infield. To reduce energy consumption, the greenhouse will feature a passively cooled, open roof design to provide optimal light and climate for the native plants grown there. There will be five different temperature zones including 1,200 square feet of propagation space.
“The design team at Re:Vision Architecture in Philadelphia was extremely thoughtful and intentional when developing the concept for our new greenhouse,” Rockwell said. “Functionality and sustainability are the core themes of this project, and the design team wove those into every decision.”
These new buildings are the first major construction projects that Mt. Cuba Center has undertaken in several years. The focus on renewable energy and reduced carbon footprint can serve as a model for future construction on the property.
“Innovating and implementing sustainable facilities are directly related to Mt. Cuba’s mission,” said Jeff Downing, Mt. Cuba’s executive director. “Climate change is possibly the single greatest threat to biodiversity and native species.”
Design Highlights include:
- Solar Power – Building orientation and roof configuration were designed to maximize solar production. The solar panel array is expected to create enough energy to offset the buildings’ use over the course of a year.
- Geothermal Heating and Cooling – The facility will use the land around it like a battery to store heat removed from the buildings in the summer and borrow it back in the winter through a geothermal loop system. This will be supported by electric heat pumps, which will provide the remaining heat needed.
- Rainwater Harvesting – Roof materials will minimize possible contaminants into rainwater harvesting systems, which will be used to water plants in the greenhouse and other plant production spaces.
- Low Carbon Profile – Materials throughout the building and landscape were carefully considered for their embodied carbon impact. The team prioritized wood for major structural components because of its lower carbon profile on this project.
- People-friendly and sustainable design – Creating a friendly environment for people as well as plants was a top priority for Mt. Cuba. The head house features natural light in every room, which is good for both people and energy usage. Harvested lumber from several walnut trees will be incorporated into the greenhouse project to utilize local, recycled materials and create a connection between the outdoors and indoors.
Mt. Cuba opened to the public in 2013, but its 20th century history is rich with pioneering horticultural work in native plants. The current greenhouse on the property was completed in 1962 to produce floral plants for Pamela and Lammot du Pont Copeland’s home. Pamela Copeland in particular saw the need to conserve and protect the native plants she saw in the wild. In the early 2000s, the greenhouse was transitioned to produce plants for conservation work.
Today, the work in Mt. Cuba’s greenhouse extends far beyond plant production — it is used to generate and share knowledge with the horticulture community. The new greenhouse will significantly expand Mt. Cuba’s research, propagation, and production endeavors and understanding of how to best cultivate and conserve native plants. The new head house will deepen research capabilities with a research and tissue culture laboratory and will provide new workspaces for staff.
In addition to the greenhouse, construction will also begin on a new Woodland Glade garden, welcome center, and guest parking lot to open in Spring 2022. Completion of the greenhouse is expected for Winter 2022.