Learn how to start your own rooftop garden with Annie Novak in The Rooftop Gardening Guide (Ten Speed Press, 2016). Sample plans, interviews with other rooftop gardeners, and case studies round out this enthusiastic guide to creating urban farms in every possible space, no matter how small or city-bound.
You can purchase this book from the Mother Earth Living store: The Rooftop Growing Guide.
At the age of twenty, when I was a very susceptible young thinker, I read Wendell Berry’s “The Pleasures of Eating.” To this day, it remains the most powerful essay I’ve ever read about food.
Beginning with the simple assertion that “Eating is an agricultural act,” Berry deftly unfolds the tragedy of the modern American food system, then lays out a short charter of actions for the ecological eater. He ties our good health to food sovereignty: the ability to grow our own food, or at least understand where it comes from. He links high quality food to healthy soil, healthy soil to good farming, and better farming stewardship to the sustainability of our watersheds, our country, and our planet. To eat well, he says, is as simple as maintaining a healthy curiosity about the connection between dirt and dinner. The essay concludes with a list of common sense ways an eater can do this. He asks that we cook for ourselves, try to grow our own food, make friends with farmers, and investigate the stories of our favorite plants. I can remember exactly what I did when I finished the article: everything, precisely as he suggested.
John Stoddard and Courtney Hennessay were experienced ground-level farmers before they took to the roofs.
Now it is your turn. You’ll find that rooftop gardening, urban farming, and farming and gardening in general are challenging tasks. But the word Berry uses — “pleasure” — is an apt counterbalance to this effort. Farming and gardening present opportunities to reengage with a deeply entrenched part of our humanity that goes beyond simply eating well or getting outside. People need plants. In 2005, in the same spring season I started my career at the New York Botanical Garden at its beautiful two-acre family-friendly vegetable gardening site, The Edible Academy, Richard Louv published Last Child in the Woods, a call to arms in the face of the rise in obesity, attention deficit disorder, and depression. Regular exposure to nature, Louv suggests, is essential to the health and cognitive development of children and adults alike.
Inexpensive plastic crates lined with geotextile fabric and filled with organic soil mix make for an easily portable rooftop farm setup.
Our personal health and the ecological health of our chosen living environment depends on maintaining and creating new green spaces. This is particularly true as internationally we become a more urban people. All rooftops — in and outside of cities — could be greener, but markedly in the density of an urban landscape, rooftop gardens and green roofs have transformative power. In 2009, the year we founded the Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, an abandoned elevated train track in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood opened in renewed use as the High Line. It quickly became one of the most popular public parks of the last century, welcoming five million visitors a year.
Rooftop farming is a thread in a larger woven landscape we’ve spent a long time unraveling but can yet stitch back together. Whether it’s food, pleasure, entrepreneurship, health, community, or necessity that brings you up to the roof, your efforts are a note in a long-sung song. Indeed, when looking at the landscape of empty rooftops around you and wondering where to begin, it’s important to remember the stubbornness of nature below and above our architecture. In New York City, I see it in the weeds prying up through sidewalk cracks, or in the red-tailed hawks circling their way back into an ecosystem by nesting in the stone facades of turn-of-the-century buildings. In the years the High Line sat fallow, wildflowers grew up through the train trusses. There’s a necessity to green spaces, which in his poem In a Country Once Forested Berry gently reminds us is as inevitable as we allow it to be:
… the soil under the grass
is dreaming of a young forest,
and under the pavement the soil
is dreaming of grass.
Reprinted with permission from The Rooftop Gardening Guide by Annie Novak and published by Ten Speed Press, 2016. Buy this book from our store: The Rooftop Growing Guide.
A burning bush is an invasive plant native to Asia, whose branches make for beautiful foliage year round. In 1860 they were introduced to the U.S. for decorative use. They are versatile and can provide cooling shade to your home, reducing upcoming summer energy bills. And of course, the obvious benefit of adding more plants to your yard is the good they do for the environment. If that isn't reason enough to pull out the shovel and work gloves, you will just have to keep reading!
1. Strong and Versatile
During a drought, it will probably be one of the last things standing in a once lush landscape. Burning bushes can withstand a variety of climates and soil. That is great, because I have red clay in my yard...not fertile, loose dirt. If you want the boldest fall colors, the plant needs full sun. However, it can be placed in semi shady areas, but its fall colors will be stunted to a pale pink or yellow.
With a little pruning, the bush can be shaped and kept to the size of your liking. A compact burning bush can grow to be 10 to 15 feet tall, or it can be kept as a small, ornamental bush. The bottom branches can be removed to create a treelike appearance too, wonderful for lining a driveway.
3. Beautiful Year Round
Not only known for their breathtaking fall color, these bushes add something to your yard year round. In the summer, its green leaves and small blooms look like any other landscaping accent, then in the fall it bursts into fiery red color. After the leaves fall for the winter, they expose an interesting and beautiful branch structure.
4. Little Maintenance
It can be overwhelming to care for a garden and a yard full of decorative shrubs and trees. A little watering, and some occasional pruning are the main things you will have to do. Depending on where you live, there may be some addition care steps.
5. Disease and Pest Resistant
Bugs and fungi seem to shy away from burning bushes. Although, they are still at risk for some infestations such as coral spot nectria canker, which is a fungal disease that can kill the plant. Extreme weather can be the cause and avoiding pruning during the hot months is a great way to prevent this. Aphids and the Black Vine Weevil like to feed on the leaves, but can be warded off by natural pesticides. Mineral oil, citrus oil/cayenne mix, eucalyptus oil, onion/garlic spray and tobacco can all be useful in discouraging destructive pests.
Things You Need to Know
Don't plant burning bushes near forests or wooded areas, as they are an invasive, foreign species that will spread wildly. Plant them near your house, or in a separated area of your yard to keep it under control.
Burning bushes need good drainage. If you have hard packed soil like mine, some tilling and loose soil may be in order.
My bushes came from Nature Hills Nursery, since I couldn't find them at my local gardening stores. Prices are very reasonable and my plants arrived well packed and healthy. The representatives can help guide you through the planting process if you're new to gardening and landscaping.
I placed three burning bushes along the barren backside of my home. I hope that when they grow to my preferred size, they will reduce the mid-day Georgia heat. And in the fall, I look forward to sitting on my back porch to enjoy the view.
Karyn Wofford is a type 1 diabetic, EMT and Certified Wellness Specialist. For years she has educated herself on wellness and natural, wholesome living. Karyn’s goal is to help people be the healthiest they can be while living fun, happy lives.
Prisoners, seniors, veterans, hospital patients and at-risk youth are just a few of the populations benefiting from horticulture therapy programs and therapeutic gardens throughout the country and world. Here are a few examples of healing landscapes and how they are helping people live happier, healthier and more meaningful lives. To discover more resources for healing gardens, visit Healing Landscapes.
Photo courtesy of Warrior and Family Support Center
Warrior and Family Support Center (WFSC): Therapeutic gardens help soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, mental health issues and physical injuries. Located at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, the WFSC (pictured above) provides a safe environment for wounded service members to rehabilitate with their families following treatment at the Brooke Army Medical Center. The center’s therapeutic gardens include recreational areas that are smaller in scale to create a sense of security and resemble a homelike environment. Plenty of shade, seating and lush plantings promote rest and relaxation, while an outdoor kitchen and children’s play areas encourage socialization. The grounds also provide opportunities for physical therapy and exercise with a fitness trail, putting green and volleyball court.
Rikers Island GreenHouse program: Founded in 1989 on Rikers Island, one of the largest jail complexes in the world, GreenHouse was the first program to use horticulture therapy to help prisoners. Today, the program thrives, encompassing a greenhouse, a classroom and more than two and a half acres of gardens, all designed, built and tended by inmates. Through horticulture, prisoners work through various antisocial behaviors and mental disorders, as well as develop important job skills that can help them find employment when they re-enter their communities, reducing the rate at which former inmates return to prison.
Photo courtesy of Norma's Garden
Norma’s Garden at The Gathering Place: Therapeutic gardens are also found in health-care settings, such as hospitals and nursing homes. Located in Beachwood, Ohio, Norma’s Garden (pictured above) is part of The Gathering Place, an organization that provides free programs and services to address the emotional, physical, spiritual and social needs of people touched by cancer, whether as a patient, family member or caregiver. The grounds feature winding paths to private gardens used for meditation and individual counseling sessions, as well as a large, open swath of grass forw support group meetings and gentle exercise such as yoga and tai chi to help rebuild strength and reduce stress and anxiety. Calming water features, symbolic wind-driven sculptures and sensory plantings throughout engage all five senses.
Photo by Fotolia
There’s nothing that quite adds to the pride of homeownership than having the best lawn in the neighborhood.
At the same time, maintaining a big beautiful patch of grass is nowhere near as simple or as straightforward as most people make it out to be. Weeds are always trying to invade, pests ruin the color, and disease – yes, grass can become diseased – will do everything it can to undermine all of your lawn care efforts.
On top of that, it can be a bit of a challenge trying to reinvigorate a lawn that has been left to deteriorate by the previous homeowner. If you are trying to rehabilitate a lawn that is anything but picture-perfect, you may want to think about abandoning that rehab project and instead choosing to replace your old lawn with new sod.
Pay close attention to the information below and you’ll understand exactly what it takes to replace your old lawn with new sod – and how much it will cost you!
Break down your soil composition
Before you even think about resodding your lawn you’re going to want to make sure that you really understand the kind of soil composition that you are working with.
The overwhelming majority of homeowners have absolutely no idea what kind of soil they’ve got, and many of them are under the false impression that they have a heavy coating of topsoil to work with, when nothing could be further from the truth.
Over time, topsoil is going to erode away – especially if your lawn wasn’t well-kept by the previous homeowner – and it is going to need to be replaced with quality compost and top-notch topsoil so that you can give your new sod every opportunity to cement itself in place.
You’re also going to want to think about soil composition from a drainage standpoint. The soil that you use will have a big impact on how well your property is able to both retain and shed rainwater, and you want to make sure that it has just the right amount of retention properties without ever making your lawn wet or soggy.
This can all be pulled off with a quick soil test (many landscaping companies provide these services at inexpensive rates), or you can choose to tear up all of the old earth and then put down new topsoil to work with.
A lot of times, it’s more cost-effective – and a lot less of a headache – to simply put a new topcoat of topsoil over your currently existing soil and work from there.
Always take advantage of locally grown sod
You are definitely going to have quite a few options to pick and choose from when it’s time to put down new sod on your new topsoil, but you need to be smart and savvy about this decision.
Many people want to purchase the cheapest sod possible from “big box” home-improvement stores. While this is definitely the most cost-effective way to go about reestablishing your lawn (at least upfront), it can be a total disaster – if only because this sod is usually not grown in the local area.
Sod that isn’t “farmed” from your local community isn’t going to be used to the kind of soil that it will be introduced to, won’t be used to the local climate, and is going to have a tough time re-acclimating unless you pay a lot of attention to it. Your brand-new green lawn may turn yellow in just a couple of days!
You might have to pay a little bit more to get your hands on sod that has been grown from a local landscaping company, but that cost is only going to be a little extra upfront. You won’t have to spend as much money re-acclimating your sod, or spend a ridiculous amount of time monitoring and fussing over your grass..It’ll just take to your soil the way that it was supposed to!
Get your hands on the heartiest sod you can find
You are certainly going to want to make sure that your new sod is able to thrive in its early stages, and you’ll want to ensure that it is able to set down solid roots just as quickly as possible.
The only way to make certain that this is possible is to get your hands on the heartiest sod you can find – which will add a bit to the final price – but it’s always going to be worth it.
Look for first-grade fescues or blended grass that offers you the opportunity to enjoy a beautiful, lush lawn and that is also very resilient and resistant to attacks from insects and animals, and can stand up to less than ideal weather conditions.
Pay attention to these critical details and you won’t have anything to worry about when you tackle a DIY sod project on your own!
As much as we’d all love the space and weather to continuously have an herb garden growing in our backyards, it doesn’t often happen. Fortunately, it’s not all that difficult to grow them inside, if you pick the right kinds. You just need a few basics for the actual growing, and maybe a little ingenuity to find space for them. The space aspect can be extremely important, especially in a house with pets or small children.
Photo by iStock.
Hanging Basil Garden
Basil loves light and warmth, so if you have a nice window in your kitchen, you can grow basil there. You can get as fancy as you like, but the simplest version is to just get a shower rod and hang a pot or small bucket from it. Fill the bottom with small rocks and sand for drainage, fill the rest up with potting soil and stick a plant in. Basil smells amazing, so even if you don’t use it regularly, it’ll still scent your kitchen.
Bottles of Chives
Another sun lover, chives are simple to care for. If you dig them up from outside, be sure to give them a few days to adjust to being indoors by leaving them in the coolest area of your house.
Self-watering planters are a neat way to upcycle old bottles. You can cut or break them neatly, then use the neck end as your planter. Drop a string down the neck and attach it to the bowl — tape works well. Fill the bowl with dirt, and place it upside down in a Mason jar partially filled with water. Then just add the plant. Chives work well because their roots are flexible and don’t have to go very deep to produce a decent plant, and the sting will draw water up to the dirt, doing the watering for you.
Let’s face it: Ladders are basically shelves. Bay grows well in well-lit areas, but it doesn’t need sunlight all day — about half the day is plenty. It does need a little more space than some other plants, which is why using a ladder can give you enough room.
Just grab an old ladder, paint it and do the same for some old plywood. Nail the plywood to the ladder rungs and you suddenly have a nice, vertical garden. The bottom shelf can hold toys, while plants can be kept a bit higher if you’re hoping to keep little hands out of the dirt. Just be sure to secure the ladder.
Oregano loves warmth and light, so a south-facing window is perfect. It’s also a bit like growing a tiny shrub, in that it won’t get too out of control and requires minimal maintenance as long as you provide plenty of drainage for it.
As for the wall-art bit, it’s a pretty free-range project. The main idea is to get a small planter and attach it to something you can then hang on the wall. Strangely enough, a sturdy picture frame is actually perfect for this, as long as you reinforce the backing.
One-Pot Garden: Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
By far, the lowest-maintenance garden you can do is just to put a bunch of herbs in one pot and take care of them that way. These three herbs all like about the same amounts of water and sunlight — which is lots of sun and slightly damp soil, so they do well together. They also tend to be pretty well-behaved and won’t crowd each other out.
So, while you don’t have to go shopping for any heavy duty tools, you can certainly use some tools around the house to get creative. These are only a few ideas — let your imagination and your hammer arm — go wild and you’re sure to come up with something new.
Ali Lawrence is a tea-sipping writer who focuses on healthy and sustainable living via her family blog Homey Improvements. She was born and raised in Alaska and dabbles in PR, Pilates, and is a princess for hire for kid’s parties. Find her on Twitter @DIYfolks.
Photo by Upsplash
Spring is coming, and that means it’s time to start thinking about your garden again. Whether you’re starting from scratch as a beginner or have years of experience growing flowers to beautify your landscape, roses have always been the Holy Grail of garden plants. Prized for their scent as well as their beauty, these flowers represent the pinnacle of success for many gardeners.
Roses can be prickly, though — in more ways than one. Sure, the thorns are likely to get you, but these queens of the garden can also be persnickety about their growing conditions, and they have a reputation for being difficult plants.
The rewards of growing beautiful roses make them worthwhile, and you too can be successful with these plants. Follow these tips to grow healthy roses in your garden this spring and summer:
1. Choose the Right Variety
In recent years, rose breeders have responded to the demand for roses that can grow in less-than-perfect conditions. Knock-Out roses come in many colors, bloom throughout the summer and are highly resistant to diseases like black spot that can take down other roses. Because they’re so easy to grow, they’re hugely popular — you should be able to find them at nearly any reputable nursery.
The only drawback to some of the modern wonders of breeding is that they don’t have much of a scent. If you literally want to take time to smell your roses, look to ancient varieties like Rosa mundi, apothecary roses and some classic varieties like “Pink Meidiland” or “Carefree Beauty" that have stood the test of time.
2. Choose the Right Location
Roses need full sunlight for about eight hours a day to produce strong canes and lots of blooms. They also need soil that drains well, so be sure to choose a spot that isn’t subject to standing water or puddling when it rains.
You also want to make sure that your roses are protected from the wind and have sufficient support if you choose a climbing variety. Install a strong trellis and start training the cane in the very first year to get the look you want — you’ll have a bloody battle against the thorny canes in the future if you don’t tie them to the trellis when they are young and pliable.
Photo by Upsplash
3. Feed the Flowers
Roses require fertile soil to do well, so make sure that you dig a deep hole and backfill it with a 50/50 mixture of soil and rich, organic compost when you plant. This will give the roots plenty of room to spread in nice, loose soil. Apply a balanced fertilizer about once a month, starting when the roses begin to put out a set of new leaves each spring. Continue feeding until the last month before frost — stopping the food source will help your plant stay strong as temperature cool down.
When fertilizing roses, it's best to use natural, organic fertilizer. Commercial fertilizers can do serious environmental damage if left unprotected, so if you do choose to use one, keep everything sealed tightly and stored out of the way, where children and pets can’t reach it.
4. Watch Out for Disease
One of the biggest problems roses face is disease. Planting the right varieties for the climate will help, as will choosing a good location. Still, sometimes bad things happen to good roses despite your best efforts.
For the best chance of curing your roses of diseases like black spot or powdery mildew, you need to catch the problem early. Get in the habit of inspecting your roses at least once a week to check for signs of disease. At the first sign of trouble, treat your roses with a pest spray. Here are instructions to make your own organic spray.
Photo by Upsplash
5. Keep Pests at Bay
Most animals stay away from roses thanks to the sharp thorns, but insects are another story. Japanese beetles, aphids and rose slugs can all wreak havoc on your plants, eating away the leaves and severely weakening the rose bush. You can spray for insects with an insecticidal soap or tea tree oil for an organic solution. Some commercial insecticides are harmful to honeybees, so if you're buying one, pay attention to the ingredients.
With a little research about the best roses for your area and a commitment to check on your roses often to catch problems before they spiral out of control, you can enjoy these beautiful flowers in your garden this summer. “Inspecting” your roses should be fun — all you have to do is walk past them and take a good look. Since you planted them to enjoy them, this should be the most pleasant garden task of all.
Megan Wild is a slowly but surely learning the ins and outs of creating a healthy flower garden. Her favorite type of flower is either a tulip or a daisy, so she plants as many of them as possible. Check out her tips and tricks for gardening on her blog, Your Wild Home.
1. Grab a Forkful (of Dirt)
Designed to be easy on hands and wrists, the NRG PRO Mid-Length Border Fork includes a circular handgrip and a life-time guarantee.
To Buy: $40, Mother Earth Living Store
2. Poo Poo Planter
Give seedlings a strong start with these biodegradable pots. Made from composted cow manure, they break down to enrich your soil.
To Buy: $8 for a pack of 12, GrowOrganic.com
3. Treat Hard-Working Hands
After a day of digging, refresh tired hands with these all-natural herbal soaps that gently scrub away garden dirt. Choose between Basil Poppy Seed and Lemon Calendula.
To Buy: $7, Botanical Interests
4. Pest Prevention
This solar-powered stake humanely redirects moles and gophers. Using a sonic pulse, it disrupts the animals’ sleep cycles, and makes them irritated enough to leave.
To Buy: $25, Clean Air Gardening
5. Butterfly Hospitality
The Butterfly Puddler has a recycled-glass well at the center that holds sand and water. As the water evaporates, butterflies are attracted to the minerals left behind.
To Buy: $40, UncommonGoods