This is a blog about urban growing that once pivoted around a rooftop garden in London but now often adventures off elsewhere…
The story of the aerial, edible garden
My Holloway flat is truly tiny. It’s home sweet home but postage stamp sized. I moved here to escape a hellish house share and so I’ve always seen it as a retreat. For my flatmate and me it’s our most peaceful place, despite being sandwiched between the Camden, Holloway and Seven Sisters Roads. What makes my part of this paltry palace extra special is the fact my bedroom has a door that opens out onto a fenced-in flat roof.
When I moved in it was almost winter, the days were short and the rooftop damp and rather bleak. It was a three metre square patch of grey, albeit one that boasted surprisingly green views of gardens running wild and grand old trees. It felt like London, framed by the backs of classic town houses and edged with the outline of chimney stacks.
In spite of inevitable sirens, helicopter buzz and bus roar, the space is calm. Attached to me and my space, it floats somehow separate from the seething urbanity that surrounds it. I would stare at it through condensation curtained windows that winter and think I’d like to get to know my square of grey better.
A city girl, I also love the outdoors and nature. London has vast swathes of green space and supports much wildlife. At the same time I inherited a potential roof garden, I was also becoming more and more intrigued by urban ecology. Fascinated by the richness of London’s wildlife, I was starting to understand the importance of conserving and creating more natural land within the city.
So, full of the joys of nature, and being a fan of food as everybody is, I decided to get acquainted with my rooftop by turning it into an aerial, edible garden. It was to be organic and wildlife friendly, full of flowers that would attract bees and moths. It was to be low maintenance and done on a budget. It was to be an allotment of sorts, as well as providing me with some extra space in which to daydream and entertain friends.
It ended up taking me another year to get my act together and really start growing in earnest. My second winter in the flat found me reading gardening books, drawing strange diagrams and heading off to seed swaps and garden centres. I even started this blog, thinking that if I made my intentions public, I’d be more motivated to actually get on and do it.
After just one growing season I felt like I’d genuinely earned myself a set of urban green fingers. I’ve successfully grown and harvested potatoes, beans, tomatoes, courgettes, garlic, strawberries, herbs and salads up there. I’ve developed a night corner with flowers like tobacco plant, evening primrose, lavender and jasmine that are gloriously fragrant after dark. I’ve hosted small home grown supper parties and lost many hours to sun dozing and moon bathing amongst the foliage.
Wildlife wise, destructive snails and squirrels visit regularly and often, plus much loved and tuneful Cockney sparrows, blackbirds and robins. I’ve even spied a great spotted woodpecker in my neighbour’s sycamore tree. I get many bees, butterflies and moths. My aerial gardening adventures have opened my eyes to a new side of London life, and the project has been the force behind new friendships far beyond the rooftop.
My book based on a year on the roof – which adventures off into London’s wild spaces and discovers the creatures the city supports – is now on sale. My Garden, the City and Me: Rooftop Adventures in the Wilds of London