During my time living in London, flat hunting was always quite an exciting time, despite the fact that flats to rent would drop off the market faster than a public school girl’s knickers at a polo match, eventually something would turn up. I only ever had one condition: it must have outdoor space.
Whether it was a Juliet balcony, a large window sill or even a disused patch of unkept ground (I think I had them all), I was always keen to make it into something worthwhile and productive, and what better way than to supply the kitchen with fresh vegetables and, on occasion, the odd invertabrate.
The Urban garden is nothing new, although the emphasis may have changed slightly from attractive blooms and exotic plants to more practical items for the plate, high rise gardening has been going on for centuries and even formed one of the seven wonders of the world: the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar had the gardens commissioned as a present to his wife, The ancient ruins of this city are believed to be 50 miles South west of Bagdad. The gardens were planted with all manner of green things from the known world which, unlike Saddam Hussein, King Neb had managed to conquer.
Rooftop vegetable plots are becoming the latest fad for those imprisoned in the city. Most urbanites want to till their limited outdoor space and flex their green fingers, especially the termites of the foodie class, who couldn’t possibly uphold their status without growing something. But, far from being passing phase, this chapter of the urban dwelling manual isn’t just being bookmarked…it’s being rewritten.
With over 6000 acres of uncultivated window space in London alone and 80% of the capital’s food coming from abroad, its time for Londoner’s to step up their game. Boris is all over it, and has already begun poking the green finger at the biggest waste of money since Richard Branson decided to fly paying punters into space. Yes, the 2012 Olympics committee are getting a thorough fisting from the mayor in a bid to turn the capital’s rooftops green.
But why should it just be for the Olympics? Why the sudden 21st century ‘Dig for Victory” campaign? In 1943, allotments produced half of Britain’s fruit and vegetables, when did we become so lazy? Today, there is certainly a positive shift towards the ‘grow your own’ way of thinking, allotment waiting lists are about 10 years long and schemes such as ‘Landshare’ developed by Hugh and his merry band of River Cottagers have helped the nation grow back their lust for getting grubby in the garden.
Boris’s push for a greener, more sustainable London skyline is a move in the right direction. Harrods have even created a bespoke service offering teams of experts to come to a rooftop near you and set up a vegetable patch starting from £1000…if your that serious about growing vegetables, you might as well do it yourself!
Roof top gardening in a city makes sense, especially with the volume of precipitation in this country, the water can be collected and fed directly to the plants and the amount of carbon dioxide given off down below coupled with the maximum amount of sunlight found at the top of tall buildings can only help feed photosynthesis: an equation for happy plant growth.
In New York they have gone as far as keeping chickens and Bees on some rooftop plots, this really is small-holding in the sky. I wouldn’t have thought it safe myself, but then again if they have flamingos at Kensington Roof Gardens…
Rooftop farming is very popular in the US: New York, Chicago and San Francisco are all getting involved with the utilisation of empty high rise space. In Philadelphia the Four Seasons Hotel has opened up its own high rise plot to help supplement their kitchen with a series of raised beds, this not only provides the guests with fresh, local food, but saves money in the long run, regardless of how gimmicky the scheme seems.
Much to my surprise, my first effort at urban gardening was a complete success. I had a fairly large homemade window box chained to my south-west facing Juliet balcony, and grew a series of herbs salads and even chillies, needless to say Clare and I spent nothing on salad over the summer months, to see for your self click here. From the box to bigger things, my first garden took a lot of work to fit with raised beds and condition the soil, but it was well worth the effort and I was able to grow more than just salad. Runner beans, potatoes, kohl rabi, pak choi, radishes…and more, to have a look click here.
What I learnt from those experiences is that growing vegetables is as easy as putting seeds in the ground and watering everyday, you will certainly end up with something. Managing a larger plot and diversifying, at ground level, is where battle begins: pests are the main contender and it is small discoveries like growing Nasturtium in amongst rows of veggies to deter Aphids, that begin to turn you into a hoe-wielding wizard…I still feel I have a long way to go, but I am getting there.
After my stint in the treehouse, I have become increasingly aware of ways in which we can be more self-sufficient, an inevitable outcome I’m afraid. I think it would be great if more office blocks in London could open up their roofs for vegetable plots, especially for their desk bound work force. How good would it be if you could go up to the roof at lunch with a bowl, a fork and bottle of light dressing and get stuck in to some freshly picked greens?
One of the Kitchens I used to work in was at Fidelity, the investment bankers. They had an enormous building and some handy chefs, if only they could have gone ahead and used a fraction of the millions they make a year to create a high rise plot, they would be on the road to self-sufficiency, be able to brag about it to their clients and at the very least: let the chefs escape the heat of the kitchen from time to time to get supplies.
Not only would a push towards rooftop plots be beneficial to our well being and create some good food and pleasant places to be, it would also reduce a hefty carbon footprint something which, according to statistics, London needs to recognize…