I’m long overdue to present a mini roof garden tour this year, let alone a garden tour of any kind. As always I’m behind, which inevitably leads to thoughts that things aren’t just right yet. Or the light is wrong. Then of course there is the classic, “But wait until August when the tomatoes are like trees.”
But then August comes and I rarely post a photo, or take photos of the whole thing for that matter. And then winter comes and I am asked for photos or am putting together speaking presentations and I find there are no photos to show. So instead I spike the water bottles with LSD and ask the audience to use their imaginations.
And then spring comes and I proclaim that, This will be the year of hyper documentation! And then June rolls around and it turns out that I missed the pea plants when they were a vibrant green and covered in delicate pink flowers, and the lettuce boxes when they were in their prime. They will never be just like that ever again and there are no photos to prove it. Gardens are in a perpetual state of change and you can’t make it turn back in time. And you can never make it be exactly what you want, exactly when you want it.
So with that preamble I give you the roof garden as it is right now, not just right and not exactly what I want when I want it.
Containers on the west side of the roof. Pictured are 4 tomatoes, potatoes, lemon basil, assorted lettuce greens, ‘Tom Thumb’ peas (they’re on the way out, hence the yellowing), bok choy, broccoli (we just harvested the first head), and mizuna.
The mizuna that ate Manhattan. I had planned to pull this out and replace it with peanuts but it’s so big and happy, I just haven’t had the heart to do it yet. As you can see, I mulch most of my containers with straw. Works like a charm to keep the soil moist for a longer length of time. I also discovered that the starlings (birds that nest in the wall of our building) are less likely to snip pieces of living plants and instead go for the straw during early season nest building.
One of my favourite tomatoes of the varieties I am growing for the first time this year,
‘Mountain Princess Dwarf’ ‘Yellow Pygmy’ [edit: I got it wrong! Oops.] It’s so pretty and delicate. I almost hate using those words with “princess” in the name (am I perpetuating a stereotype?). It already has a few tomatoes and a ton of little flowers. I’m thinking this might be the variety that parents can use to get their princess-crazy children interested in gardening.
This photo (facing east) makes me cringe for all sorts of reasons but I wanted to show you a couple of elements. The first is the tent we put up this year, very different from the gazebo we typically hang to protect ourselves and some plants from the intense heat.
The roof is completely uninhabitable without some sort of shade cover, and a small umbrella does not cut it. We could not find a gazebo this year, so opted for a wedge gazebo from Ikea. It cost $30 CDN. Unfortunately, it was a bit large for the width of our wall so we had to improvise. I didn’t like it at first and miss having somewhere to hang baskets, but its free-form nature is growing on me.
The other element is the colourful striped rug. I got that for $4 from the as-is section of Ikea. There were no tags or info with it but it looks to be made from something like plastic rope. I like the feeling of it underneath my bare feet. I’m not sure how I feel about it aesthetically, but am giving it time.
This is how I grow my indeterminate tomatoes on the roof. I pot them up in large garbage pails (one tomato per pot only!) with holes drilled in the bottom for drainage. I then surround them with lettuce plants early in the season. As the summer heat picks up I pull out the lettuce and replace them with basil. All of these heads are on their last legs and will be eaten soon. Again you can see the straw mulch in effect.
A nice colour combination: ‘Australian Yellow Leaf’ lettuce and purple violas (unknown variety but they have a thin line of silver around the margins.)
This is my other favourite tomato plant right now, Ã¢â‚¬ËœDwarf Medium Ruffled Pink Oblate.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Look at those thick, ruffly leaves! Tomatoes are on the way.
There’s lots more in the details but I’d rather reveal those slowly over time.