A viral movement for the rooftops of our residential buildings is underfoot to develop traditionally-ignored sites for gardening.
Sure, some fortunate few previously lugged a few patio chairs and a table or two up to enjoy local outdoor enjoyment and spiritual uplifting benefits. Today’s movement leans toward a fully integrated living space where all in the building share and enjoy.
Rooftop Living and Gardening
Rooftop living is not a new concept. Middle Eastern homes frequently utilize this space to escape the ravages of heat. These spaces became more than just summer bedrooms, as they are meeting places to socialize and entertain friends and family.
It is hard to tell in our modern city living whether Middle Eastern culture has had any influence, or whether it is a natural parallel development. What is exciting is the current interest to develop these spaces. They are relatively private for those living in the building. Young families can take children up for fresh air without traveling to a distant park and fighting traffic.
A rooftop garden is a safe and secure location families can enjoy very near to home. Others enjoy the opportunity to grow some vegetables or flowers they normally wouldn’t have a chance to enjoy in the inner city. And, it frequently becomes an impromptu social networking event when neighbors meet for coffee in the morning or a beer or two in the evening while enjoying the sunset.
A Local Example of Fine Living
The Scholar’s Rooftop building in Bloomington, Indiana, is a local progressive living complex designed with this concept in mind. The rooftop gardens are available to all in the building.
Scholar’s Brand Manager Natalie Mathias graciously guided Decoded Plants on a tour of the space and answered many questions while inviting us back to check on the garden’s progress throughout the season. One can never be entirely sure just how all the plants will blend together except to see them between spring and fall. That is the excitement of anticipation.
The first noticeable thing is how quiet and inviting the space is even with a very busy city street just a few floors below. This roof nestles in the canopy of surrounding mature trees, which give the illusion of hedges punctuating the vast expanse of the sky with an added interest of dimension. The feeling of freedom is overwhelming. Little outside interference imposes on the special seclusion of this site.
Concerns, Codes and Safety
This particular apartment building was specifically designed with a rooftop garden in mind.
The metal roof has a floating wood deck to give the feeling of being on a patio space as in any other urban home.
The concern for safety conforms to local ordinances. In particular, Scholar’s used a heavy gauge metal fencing that all but disappears. This safety feature in no way hinders the view, yet offers all the safety anyone could possibly want for freely roaming small children. The upright posts support the fence, provide support for climbing plants and offer the opportunity for lighting features.
Certainly local code is a primary consideration for your location. There may be other concerns not considered besides the obvious concern for height related safety issues. Consulting a structural engineer may also be necessary. For example, Scholar’s had a special area set aside for the centralized power distribution area. Plants are not grown in the area.
Not wasting valuable space, Scholar’s uses this area to store equipment and supplies. Because of the initial design, there are no cooling units to contend with here.
The perennials seemed to survive no differently than any ground interred brethren. The Boxwood is preparing to send out new growth as are the fountain grasses. The texture of the prepared soil/media is no different than any in a ground based garden. The media appears to me a normal organic mixture that encourages water absorption and retention. Visible organic matter enhances the media just as a normal ground based garden.
Natalie explains that the residents use about half of the space and the complex plants the rest. She said that the complex encourages each resident that wishes to grow plants, and tells us that the complex facilities department is available to help maintain the appearance, should it be necessary.
The Design of This Rooftop Garden
This rooftop garden consists of many large box-shaped containers reminding one of raised beds so popular with many urban gardens. A convenient pathway separates each.
The bed size and separation distance provide for easy care. All parts of a bed are within reach without the need to enter the beds.
A heavy-duty landscape fabric lines each bed. This allows water to escape without the soil trying to escape too. No one wants this clogging the drain spouts or making a mess on the side of the building. Each bed features an irrigation system for easy use and allowing one to water all beds with the turning of one valve at one time. Yet each has a shut off valve for each bed allowing for individual control.
Conveniently located in the center of the garden is a seating area that showed signs of frequent use. It is a comfortable well-considered location and there isn’t a bad seat in the grouping. Each seat offers views of the garden and no one has to bend or twist to watch the sun rise or set. Auxiliary lighting is available for late night enjoyment.
This visit was just the beginning of the planting season with most of last year’s garden already removed. Most of the beds were waiting for milder weather for annual plants. There were still a few sunflower stems and a bit of other early spring clean up waiting for that first warm spring day clean up. This wasn’t unexpected since this only the middle of March. It brought shame to this writer knowing how much more waited at home, in worse shape.
Rooftop Gardens Offer Nearly Unlimited Possibilities
Who wouldn’t want to have a space like this not much further away that going out of the apartment and up to the top of the building? Think of the possibilities.
That is what makes this late winter visit so exciting. It is an artist’s blank canvas just waiting for beauty to emerge. What will this garden produce this summer? Will it be full of flowers for cutting? Will it have vegetables? Will it have so many vegetables that a family will come together to preserve the bounty? Perhaps a young child will learn to process their first jars of pickles from this garden.
Decoded Plants wants to hear about your rooftop garden. Tell us how you used your precious space. Share with us your many pictures. Tell us how your school in the middle of the city converted a safe location into a retreat for beauty, learning and an opportunity to grow plants.
Tell us how you convinced your local government that public buildings should have a rooftop garden with community volunteer support. Think of the food that can grow in the middle of the city to feed those who hunger. Did you donate fresh vegetables?
That is what this continuing series will explore in a medium size Midwestern city as a local yard stick. We want to compare and contrast this peaceful escape with your serene garden. If it works here in a Midwestern city surrounded by farmland, then it’s possible in your city.
The gauntlet is thrown down. Will you take up the challenge?