The Rise And Rise Of The Rooftop Retreat

Ever since the hanging gardens of Babylon entered legend as one of the wonders of the world there has been an enduring desire in the human soul to merge our two main elements, earth and sky, in a roof-top refuge.

Perhaps it’s a memory of when we lived in trees but, if so, it’s surprisingly enduring and one that modern life has only served to encourage. As our eco-aspirations collide with the lack of space in our ever-expanding cities, one of the greenest of ways to green our soaring buildings is to top them off with a garden.

It’s no coincidence that some of the world’s most crowded cities are also those with the most rooftop hideaways – and the most innovative ones. And gardens on roofs really pay their way in energy savings by lowering the cost of heating and cooling a building.

One of the UK’s oldest roof gardens is hidden away 100 feet above London’s Kensington High Street. Simply called The Roof Gardens, this oasis of calm has been perched above the busy shoppers and tourists since 1933 and comprises an astonishing 1.5 acres with three themed gardens, a stream stocked with fish and wild life, even some resident flamingos – all demonstrating that the sky’s the limit when it comes to high rise gardening ambitions.

Other cities that have embraced the rooftop garden include New York, where an urban rooftop farm and an elevated park in the sky attest to the ingenuity of modern landscape gardening. In Shanghai, vegetable gardens and rainwater collection systems are installed on rooftops and the plots rented to urban farmers. Seoul boasts a growing green skyline as part of the city authorities’ ‘Green Seoul ‘ dream. There’s even a bus driving around Gerona in Spain with a garden on its roof courtesy of landscape artist Marc Granen!

So what do you need to know to create your own sanctuary in the sky? Things to explore include permissions from the relevant authorities (building owners, city authorities); professional opinions from architects or surveyors about whether the building can support the extra weight; using light materials such as plastic or fibreglass and lightweight potting soil; windbreaks – your roof will be a windier space than the ground; how to get water to your garden and how to make it safe – do you need fencing? What about drainage and waterproofing?

But if all this makes it sound daunting, don’t be put off. A flourishing number of urban roof gardeners are sharing their ideas and experience on the web and, if you live in a large building, you can always rope in some interested neighbours and go down the co-operative route.

However you decide to experience the rooftop garden, through building your own or just seeking out and visiting these amazing lairs, there’s one thing you’re sure to take away with you – a calmer soul and a deeper respect for human ingenuity.

Karen James is a self-proclaimed lover of all things green and enjoys writing about anything relating to plants and nature. All Seasons Landscape designers in Essex have been her gardening gurus for many years. When she’s not writing or gardening, she is busy running two businesses and looking after her grandchildren.

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