Creating a City Rooftop Garden

Rooftop gardens provide valuable growing space and solitude in urban areas, including planting information, maintenance, problems, and using the rooftop garden as a personal retreat from city life.

| March/April 1986

"On the roof it's peaceful as can be/And there the world below can't bother me."
(From "Up On The Roof," by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, © 1963).

Spring had arrived — robins, crocuses, mud, the whole bit. But while other gardeners were planting (and joyfully anticipating future harvests), I was lamenting the sad fate that had befallen me: Because I'd recently moved from my suburban home to a city apartment, I had become a gardener without a garden.

By the middle of April, though, I'd found a salve for my sorrow . . . and, surprisingly enough, I found it on the roof of the food coop where I work. A 7 foot by 18 foot section over an addition to the building sloped slightly to the west, with an unobstructed southern exposure in the afternoon. "Aha," said I to my frustrated gardener self. "All I have to do is offset the slope somehow . . . fill a few of these plastic, five-gallon peanut butter tubs with dirt . . . and presto, instant rooftop garden!"

Well, as things turned out, there was just a tad more to it than that.

Creating a City Rooftop Garden

After making sure the roof was sound enough to hold the extra weight — about half a ton for what I had in mind — I leveled the surface by building up the sloping portion with four wooden pallets and some scrap lumber. Then I scrounged together a random collection of no-cost planting containers: The aforementioned peanut butter tubs, some three-gallon Japanese miso kegs, a wooden cantaloupe crate, and a variety of other recycled receptacles.

I knew that water retention is important for container-grown plants — especially when they're exposed to as much heat as the crops in my hot-tin-roof garden would face — so I was careful to use only plastic (or plastic-lined wooden) containers. (Clay or fiber pots would have dried out too quickly.) Also, for the same reason, I drilled only two or three drain holes in each receptacle. And I decided to use pure compost as the growing medium, because humus holds moisture much better than run-of-the-mill dirt or commercial potting soil.

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