Guest written by Diane Appleyard at The National Allotment Society
Anyone who has visited the Roof Garden at Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre in London could not fail to be impressed by the vegetable patches growing a variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers. Fortunate homeowners with a roof terrace can create their own patch of paradise, grow some of their own produce and get their food from plot to plate in record time!
Roofs and balconies do get more than their fair share of sun and wind and plants growing in containers require regular attention but the rewards are worth it. Here are a few things to remember if you’re looking to grow your own:
- Before you start take time to look at your space – work out the orientation and take note of where the turbulent spots are.
- Avoid using solid screening – mesh will filter the winds and create a micro-climate for plants.
- Check if it is going to be possible to fix plant supports to walls or planters to balcony railings and make a rough plan of what goes where.
- Using plastic containers and lightweight growing medium is essential to conserve water and reduce weight-load. Small pots dry out much faster than large ones and adding perlite to the growing medium helps to retain moisture.
- If you spend a lot of time away from home it may be worth investing in an automatic watering system. Plants will also need feeding after the food in the compost is used up, use a liquid seaweed feed.
Now you’ve got the basics, growing a combination of produce and flowers will encourage pollinators and look visually pleasing. French beans flowers come in a range of colours and the dwarf bush varieties are suitable for roofs and balconies, courgette flowers are stunning and edible and strawberries do well and look pretty in pots and hanging baskets, the Toscana variety even has pink flowers.
Most herbs grow well in pots and will save you time and money; removing the need to buy pots from the supermarket each time you need some mint for your new potatoes or thyme for the duck confit. Take care to give them the right conditions, herbs such as rosemary, thyme and sage need a sunny spot and little feeding whilst oregano, marjoram and parsley need more fertile soil; mint will thrive in part shade and should not be allowed to get too dry.
If you want to kick start a vegetable patch, tomatoes love the warm, sunny conditions on a roof terrace but do need a lot of water on a regular basis. Salad leaves will survive in a semi-shady spot and 2 or 3 sowings of ‘cut and come again’ salad leaves can keep you going all summer. If you would like to introduce some height onto your terrace consider a patio fruit tree. Varieties range from exotic peaches and nectarines to traditional apples and pears.
Most importantly of all, find a suitable spot to sit and contemplate the result of your endeavours and enjoy your own delicious homegrown fruit and vegetables.
Find out more about how to care for your green space at the National Allotment Society website.