Looking Up

By Chelle Cordero

February 20, 2009 5 min read


Head to your rooftop for beautiful greenery

Chelle Cordero

Creators News Service

Gardening is a popular pastime for lots of people, but living in the city doesn't have to inhibit the opportunity to reap the harvest. Rooftop gardening is quickly becoming an alternative to going into the ground. Many of the designs for rooftop gardening will also work with decks, patios and balconies.

Brent Ridge, founder of Beekman 1802 in New York City and vice president of healthy living at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, enjoys his rooftop oasis in the city with his partner. "When we first bought the apartment in the city, the primary selling point was the outdoor space. Growing and gardening are very important to us."

He cautioned that gardeners will want to make certain that the surfacing material on the roof is completely intact and possibly pay for a "flood test" to make certain there are no leaks before doing any serious amount of gardening. Your top-of-the-house garden is not so different than one on the ground. "When it is fully planted, the roof garden requires attention, but no more so than any other garden," Ridge said. "If it is dry, you need to water. You need to deadhead. Weeds, however, are not much of an issue as long as you use irradiated soil when you first start out with your containers.

"For the most part, we did not use any different plantings [no dwarf varieties]. We did choose plants that could take direct sun all day [such as geraniums, oleander] and those that required little water other than average rain fall [portulaca, moon vine, conifers, various herbs, tomatoes, peppers]."

Pretty Patios in Mill Valley, Calif., designs, installs and maintains small gardens for condo owners and small plot homeowners. "Pots are the most important and biggest investment of a deck or potted garden," said Launa Taylor, owner of Pretty Patios. "They set the tone, make your initial statement and create the 'hardscape' for your space."

She recommended an organic planting soil and a regular fertilizing schedule to keep plants at their healthiest. "Also check the drainage holes regularly. Even with the best prep, holes get plugged and plants can drown. Be sure to water -- even when it rains -- pots that are under eaves. These plants tend to get forgotten when it rains and they often suffer from lack of water."

Simon Dolinky, executive chef at restaurant Blvd 16's in Westwood, Calif., serves fresh, seasonal new American cuisine with a commitment to organic and regional ingredients produced with sustainable practices. Some of the fresh herbs and vegetables for his menus come from his onsite organic garden.

Blvd 16 is currently growing basil, mint, thyme, rosemary, and microgreens in the rooftop hydroponic garden. In this plot, plants are grown in bags filled with organic material -- mostly ground coconut husks. These bags are sitting in containers, which are connected to a large tank of water and liquid organic nutrients. The tank is timed to flood the containers several times throughout the day, and then the liquid slowly drains back in to the tank.

"This drastically cuts down on the amount of water [and] nutrients needed for the garden, as the herbs absorb what is needed and the rest drains out to be used again later, instead of being lost in soil like it would be if the herbs were planted in the ground," said Dolinky.

He will soon be adding carrots, chili peppers, and lettuce, and then strawberries as they come in to season. The herbs are used for dishes as well as by the bar to make specialty cocktails and herb-infused vodkas.

Your rooftop garden can even go beyond the plants. In March 2007, Jim Mumford, owner of Good Earth Plant Company, planted the first green roof on a commercial building in San Diego at his interior plantscaping company. He has since become a major advocate for green roofs in Southern California.

"Install a green roof … the benefits are across the board! Conserve energy, retain storm water, add biodiversity, reduce the urban heat island affect and improve the view," he said on his website.

Green roofs, also called "vegetated roof covers," "living roofs" and "eco-roofs," are thin layers of living plants that are installed on top of conventional roofs. Properly designed, they are stable, living ecosystems that replicate many of the processes found in nature.

It's something that Ridge loves. "We are also big fans of 'green roofs' and how they can contribute to pollution control in urban environments."

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