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High-level gardening

November 3, 2009

We live in an age of clutter.  We make-and-mend less and buy more.  Most of us have too many possessions in too limited a space.  Homes with cleverly designed storage spaces are much sought-after, and there are even entrepreneurial professional declutterers (the profession is big in the USA) waiting for your call on their services. 

Where solar panels are fitted onto sloping roofs they don’t take up any usable space, as only the cat ventures up there.  Flat roofs, on the other hand, present interesting options.  We could create a ‘green roof’ on which to grow vegetables, an attempt at self-sufficiency to go with our space-efficiency (so long as the roof is strong enough).  A green roof can also serve as a wildlife-attracting garden.  More prosaically, it can enable better water run-off, reduce the urban heat-island effect, and extend the life of the roofing materials underneath. 

Large commercial buildings with their extensive flat roof space offer the most potential for adding energy efficiency to the mix.  A green roof and a solar panel can be perfectly compatible.  The cooling effect of the roof can help photovoltaic panels to work more effectively.  Aluminium frames are often used to raise the height of the panels so that they are not obscured by any foliage. 

Portland State University are carrying out thorough research to find out how these two green projects can work in combination – for example, assessing how plants on the eco-roof can benefit from shade under the solar arrays. 

The National Trust launched a drive this year to encourage people to grow their own vegetables and herbs on balconies and windowsills, ‘vertical vegetable gardening’, and also suggested businesses help employees to do a bit of veg cultivation at work.  One can readily imagine this gardening being done on the green roof of an office block, health and safety regulations permitting.

Once you start thinking about it, you realise there are all sorts of unused spaces which could be put to use as vegetable plots.  Step forward fans of guerrilla gardening. 

Although illegal, and surrounded by some alarming language (such as flower ‘bombs’ – balls of compost containing seeds which are hurled at roundabouts from speeding cars), this international movement seeks to improve the quality of our visual environment by turning apparently worthless and neglected urban patches into attractive flower and plant beds.  On firmer legal ground, London’s Lewisham Council has published a guide to help communities secure a nod from the landowner and cultivate derelict land.  Gardens for space-deprived, garden-less city dwellers.


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