Create your own little Eden in the Big Smoke. Isabelle Palmer, founder of urban gardening company The Balcony Gardener gives us her top five tips for turning that neglected rooftop into the outdoor space of your dreams.
1 Check the roof is up to it
‘Consult a qualified architect or a structural engineer to see how much weight your rooftop can take, if it’s watertight and if you need planning permission. I’ve heard stories of roofs collapsing, pots toppling off the edge and hurting people or leaks appearing after watering. Put pots on the edge of an area, as the middle’s the weakest point, and make sure they are secure so they don’t blow off.’
2 Be clever with containers
‘They need holes for drainage, shouldn’t be too heavy and the bigger and deeper they are the better. Avoid things that aren’t waterproof; you can treat wooden containers, but I wouldn’t do that if you’re growing anything you want to eat. Put a layer at the bottom to help drainage: smash up a few bits of crockery.’
3 Block the city out
‘Tall screening plants are great for hiding concrete and other nasty urban views, particularly bamboo or laurels as they’re quite sturdy. Strongly scented plants can help fight the smell of the city too. Lavender’s really good. It’s easy to grow, and attracts bees.’
4 Treat your garden as a room
‘See it like an extension, and pick colours that continue the colour scheme of your house. Are you going to use it at night? Then you’ll need lights. Might you want to eat out there? Then you’ll need a table and chairs. Make sure you have some perennials, perhaps rudbeckia or dianthus, otherwise at points of the year all you’ll have is a load of withered black plants.’
5 Don’t forget the basics
‘The key mistake people make is forgetting to water. I get people saying, “I’ve spent hundreds of pounds on plants, and they’re all dying!”. The first question I always ask them is, “Have you watered them?” You can always try talking them back to health. Music’s nice, too. Probably not heavy metal, though.’ Ellen Newton
‘The Balcony Gardener’ by Isabelle Palmer is published by CICO Books at £14.99. For info, see thebalconygardener.com.