Roof gardens soften hard edges of city living

Mon Aug 1, 2011 6:01am EDT
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By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK, August1 (Reuters Life!) - As the mean streets of many cities undergo a renaissance into vibrant downtown meccas, rooftop and terrace gardens, largely invisible to the public eye, are creating a verdant canopy.

Once wryly referred to as "tar beaches," hot, windswept apartment roofs have morphed into urban oases, replete with overflowing pots of annuals and perennials, herbs, vines and even fruit trees or walls of shrubbery.

"The increase in rooftop gardens is definitely a growing trend. Roof gardens are sprouting up in cities all over," said Laura Yip, who chronicles her adventures in urban gardening here

Luxury condos are installing "green roofs" as an amenity, while enhancing energy efficiency, and locavore movement chefs lovingly tend to their herb and vegetable crops to spike their sauces and grace their artisanal pizzas.

But urban horticulture doesn't come easily. Outdoor space can range from a tiny balcony to sprawling aeries with dining areas, outdoor fireplaces and trickling waterfalls.

Growing a mix of thriving plants in the harsh conditions of most city rooftops takes planning, dedication, time and money. But it's still a bargain compared to the cost of a beach house.

"I would love to have a yard," said Amy Karafin, who maintains pots of annuals, herbs and perennials on her small terrace in Brooklyn. "The soil and watering situation are so much easier. Gardening with pots requires a lot more care and creativity.

Karafin said her plants dry out quickly and keeping the soil pest-free requires effort. But there are upsides, too.   Continued...