My First Try at Rooftop Gardening

Sweet peas in the foreground; nasturtium seedlings behind

Sweet peas in the foreground; nasturtium seedlings behind

Our condo building has a shared rooftop space, complete with furniture and pots for plants.  After we moved in last year, I went up to the rooftop to check it out.  It’s nice—there is a big table and chairs, and a fire-pit surrounded by a couple of couches.  There is also a motley array of pots in different colors, sizes and materials.  Last year, the only thing growing in any of these pots was moss, so I asked if I could plant them up, and was told that I could, as long as I maintained them.  So, this spring (2016), I decided to try my hand at rooftop gardening.

 

Four o'clock seedlings in a plastic pot--I added some purple shamrock that I already had, too

Four o'clock seedlings in a plastic pot--I added some purple shamrock that I already had, too

There are 11 existing pots on the rooftop.  There is a set of four white plastic square pots in different sizes, along with six round plastic or fiberglass pots in shades of grey and terracotta, and one small grey window box planter.  All were semi-filled with old potting soil and had differing amounts of moss on the surface.  Since our HOA has quite a few projects on the agenda for this year, I did not expect any financial help for my gardening project, so I needed to make this first, experimental year inexpensive—time to get creative.

Due to weather, inexperience, and an abundance of laziness, I got a late start on the garden.  I decided to use seeds I had already purchased, and to buy one tomato plant.  I planted the seeds in mid-May.

I first lifted off all of the moss, and set it aside.  Then I gathered potting soil from all of the pots; I had enough to

Pole beans climbing the trellis

Pole beans climbing the trellis

fill two of the round pots completely, to 1 inch from the rim.  I planted nasturtium seeds in these two pots, because nasturtiums flower best in infertile soil.  I was also able to fill the four white plastic square pots with the old soil, and the rest of the pots got fresh potting soil and a small amount of earthworm castings each, from supplies I already had.  Two pots were seeded with four o’clocks, and one with sweet peas.  I planted pole beans in the window box planter, and set it against a trellis that was already on the rooftop.  I also threw a couple of black-eyed susan vine seeds into each pot, because I like to be surprised by them later in the season, when I have forgotten all about planting them.  I set the moss in one of the white square pots in the shade for the moment.

 

Pole bean flowers

Pole bean flowers

Later, I walked over to our beautiful neighborhood garden center, Gethsemane, where I purchased a patio tomato plant and three hebe’s—a plant I have never grown before.  The foliage on this particular hebe is attractively variegated in green and yellow, and the flowers (once they are ready to bloom) are a pretty purple.  I planted the three hebes in the three smallest square white planters, and I surrounded each with a patchwork of different pieces of the moss that I had collected from the pots, making sure to add some fertilizer and some new potting soil only directly under the planted hebe, leaving the top soil area where I had planted the moss infertile.  I think it looks cute!  I left the largest white square planter empty, as a neighbor had asked if she could plant that one.  Finally, I planted the tomato plant in the largest round fiberglass pot, and topped it off with a green tomato cage that I bought at Home Depot.

 

Hebe plant, flowering in purple

Hebe plant, flowering in purple

Maintaining the rooftop garden has been a blessing and a curse so far for me.  There is no running water up there, so I carry two watering cans that I fill up in my unit and walk up the stairs to the rooftop—four flights of stairs.  Usually three trips up and down with two watering cans each time will take care of the daily watering needs.  I am lucky that the pots are fairly large, thus do not dry out too quickly.  On my third trip up the stairs, I have to remind myself that I need the cardio workout and that the health benefits and beautiful flowers will be worth the work.

 

Two hebes in a bed of moss

Two hebes in a bed of moss

I would love to say that the rooftop garden has been a huge success, but the word is still out.  The sweet peas have begun to flower, and they are very pretty, but have no scent at all, which is very disappointing, since I bought the variety specifically for the lovely scent.  The pole beans are climbing the trellis and have begun to set flowers, but the leaves often burn up due to the high heat on the area of the rooftop where they are situated.  None of the other seedlings have yielded flowers yet.  Yesterday, I went ahead and bought a few annuals to plant the largest white square planter; I believe my neighbor got busy and forgot about it.  While I was on the rooftop planting those, I noticed five baby tomatoes on my tomato plant—there are some delicious tomatoes in my future!

Look at all of the baby tomatoes!

Look at all of the baby tomatoes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a follow-up, here is a picture of the progress in my patio.

The north patio wall, with pole beans climbing to the top of the wire trellis

The north patio wall, with pole beans climbing to the top of the wire trellis

 

A haiku for the fourth of July:

 

I love all of you—

Each finger and toe and limb.

Be careful, sweetheart.

 

And one for Chicago:

 

Death in this city—

Another murder today.

It wears my heart down.

 

 

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