Roof top adventures

My year of edible, aerial gardening

an extract from my blog on http://www.kitchengarden.co.uk/hb-blog.php

2-bean-plantApril 2009

I just had a lucky escape.  I’m currently teaching my runner beans about the world outside my flat, hardening them off and sending them on day trips onto the roof.  Today it’s drizzled all day and by night fall they were looking luscious, their floppy big green leaves covered in damp.  The snail just couldn’t hold itself back.  But I spotted it in time.  I swear I heard it scream as I plucked it off one of my glorious bean plants.

They’re in for the night now, safe and sound.  I am incredibly protective of these guys after sharing the last six weeks in close contact with them, but it really is time I claimed my room back, it’s turning into a bit of a jungle.  The plan is to move them outside permanently in the next few days.

4-tomato-sproutsOne of those terrible mornings

Last month’s seed planting means there are now sprouts all over the place.  Inside, I have a healthy crop of tomato seedlings that will need potting on soon, as well as my bean collection, which gets ever taller.  I’ve got rocket, loads of chives, one nasturtium and a couple of tiny basil plants.  The basil’s been through a lot so I’m pretty proud of these two particular plants.

On one of those mornings where pretty much everything that could go wrong did, I collided with my pot of basil sending it flying.  Soil everywhere.  And on a morning when I really didn’t have time to hoover.  Ugh.  So a setback for the basil and some loud cursing from me, but it’s determined and so am I.  We’re both doing OK, considering…

3-coriander-sproutsRoots, shoots and much basking

It’s so lovely out on the roof now the evenings are longer and the days warmer.  I spent a good few hours doing nothing other than basking last weekend, the roof being transformed into an all day early April sun trap.  The seeds I planted directly outside are coming along nicely.  The beans and tomatoes are a lot smaller than those planted inside, but I think they’re going to be super tough.

My radishes are flourishing, as is my coriander.  The parsley is starting to appear now and I have four little sunflower shoots.  My strawberries have at least doubled in size and have buds, and the mint is going mad.  I decided to try growing some cucumber to complete my Pimms cocktail planting plan but that hasn’t worked, there’s nothing happening in the cucumber pot sadly.  I’ll try again.

6-hugh-the-hazel1Come on love, jump on board

I went to Columbia Road in east London a couple of weeks ago.  It’s a half hour bus ride from where I live and you know you’re getting close when you start spotting people with arms full of plants or cars driving past with foliage spilling out of windows and sun roofs.

Columbia Road is a street in Hackney that hosts a flower market every Sunday from 8am til 2pm.  It gets absolutely packed with all kinds of people.  You have to steal yourself slightly before braving the crowds surrounding the stalls but it’s worth it.  “Come on love, jump on board” shout the Cockney vendors, flaunting their vegetal wares.

It’s a fantastic place to pick up a bargain.  I’d decided that I wanted a small tree for the roof, a native that wildlife would like.  I picked up a lovely little hazel there for a fiver.  I named him Hugh and we had a fun bus ride home.  Londoners are often accused of being an unfriendly bunch but you always get lots of smiles when you travel with a large plant.

Before heading home though, Hugh and I walked over to Hackney City Farm and met an absolutely enormous pig.  The pretty, wildlife friendly garden at the farm is really inspiring, they grow all kinds of fruit, herbs and veg.  I’ve planted Hugh in a large deep blue ceramic pot on the roof with a couple of heathers. Hugh and the heathers are doing well – he’s looking very jolly covered in springtime buds.

7-pesky-squirrelNon human visitations

I’ve started getting some visitors to the roof of the non human variety other than pesky squirrels (who have been especially pesky of late, after deciding to have a good dig at my radishes).  I have a blackbird who visits daily, and I’ve seen blue tits and robins along with the wood pigeons.  The most exciting sighting was a pair of jays, looking stunning in the sycamore tree that is in one of my neighbour’s gardens.  The birds are so noisy at the moment, in the evenings and again at silly-o-clock in the morning.  I’ve had a couple of bees buzzing about and I’ve spotted more foxes recently, down in the gardens that I get a brilliant view over from the roof.

Dreams of summer moonbathing

I’ve been thinking and writing about night gardening again and I’ve decided to have a night corner on the roof.  I already have jasmine and honeysuckle plants, which are all sprouty at the moment and will soon be fragrant in the evenings and loved by moths.  I’m also going to plant some evening primroses and tobacco plants.  Moths are attracted by sugary scents and pale colours, using both to navigate.

10-dew-studded-lupin1Last summer I went on a very urban moth spotting evening in King’s Cross and discovered how intricately beautiful and varied they are.  Some of our native species look like tiny birds, with exotic bright feathers and stunning markings.  Moths are precious pollinators and a vital food source for other garden species, so being moth friendly makes sense.  It will also be lovely to have a garden full of flowers that glow after dark.  I’m as much a fan of moonbathing as of sunbathing.

What next

I’m hoping my design for the roof garden will begin to take more shape over the next month, as my seedlings turn into larger plants and I start getting a bit more organised about where everything lives.  I’ve drawn out a final flat plan of how I’d like the roof to look, I’ll post it up here next month.

My main concern at the moment though is that I’m going to be leaving the roof to fend for itself for a while.  I’m off on holiday for a couple of weeks soon.  Luckily my flatmate has agreed to babysit, although I think she’s feeling the weight of this responsibility and is rather nervous!  I’m sure all will be well.

9-happy-easter-handpainted-eggs-on-the-roofThis month I’m reading ‘Let us now praise famous gardens’ by Vita Sackville-West and checking out the ‘Garden Pieces’ season at the British Film Institute http://www.bfi.org.uk/whatson/bfi_southbank/film_programme/april_seasons/garden_pieces

http://columbiaroad.info/ – more about the market

www.hackneycityfarm.co.uk – down on the city farm

www.wildlondon.org.uk – love London’s wild side

Read more on http://www.kitchengarden.co.uk/hb-blog.php

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