Green roof wanna-be

Posted: March 20, 2012 in House and home, Nature
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Green roof at Paris airport

Lately I’ve become interested in green roofs. Maybe it’s some quirk that runs in my family. My brother’s interested in straw bale houses and re-doing a barn to live in. I think, though, my interest stems from having a flat roof over our garage, something not an unalloyed blessing. For where there is a flat roof, there you will also find the distinct possibility that water will at some time and in its own inimitable fashion make (or at the very least, seek to make) its way into whatever lie below it.

So it was with our flat roof. Thankfully, because part of the roof is over the back entryway into our house from our attached garage, the leak was in a corner of our garage where it didn’t do any major damage, and it was successfully patched, but still… Water making its way into my house gives me the same feeling people report having after a burglary in their home, the feeling of violation…followed closely by the feeling that a lot of money is going to fly out my pocket to get it fixed!

Of course those weren’t our first feelings. When we opened the door at the top of the stairs to look out onto the oddity of a flat garage roof, we felt it was the perfect place for some lovely outdoor furniture; perhaps a table with umbrella to keep away the too-hot rays of mid-summer sun and some chairs in which to relax and rejuvenate. Visions of cool drinks and small plates of fresh, local food danced through our heads. But while our younger daughter does like lie there in the sun during the summer, my husband always worried about the legs of outdoor furniture creating cracks in the roofing material and our perfect place never materialized.

But back to the green roofs…recently I’d read a bit about them and when we were staying in the Paris airport Ibis Hotel, we saw one outside our window, atop a parking garage.  It looks like a moss garden as opposed to one with flowers or larger plants, but it’s still a green roof.  So when I saw Small green roofs : low-tech options for greener living, by Nigel Dunnett, on the shelf at the library, I grabbed it, ready to look at some examples and find out more about green roofs. (Nigel has written a number of books on green roofs, so if you’re interested, even only at the pictorial level, check your library.) The roofs were amazing. Some of them looked a lot like hair on top of the buildings; others like flower gardens that had forgotten their place, floated into the air and taken root on top of the nearest structure. But one thing was obvious when I read through the text—green roofs, even on small buildings, need lots of support! There has to be enough strength to support all the dirt and whatever else has to be put into place in order to plant. That won’t work for just everyone and it wasn’t going to work for our roof, which would have needed lots of support because of the size.

A few years ago I decided that I would do a tiny bit of faux green roof, planting tomatoes in pots on the roof. It worked well: hauling the soil up was great exercise and the marauding deer were flummoxed and unable to munch on my tomatoes. (I was astounded last summer to look out the window one day [at a tomato plant on the ground], to see a chipmunk balancing rather high up the plant and munching away at one of my sweet yellow cherry tomatoes! Believe me, chipmunks are only cute in the wild, away from my plants.)

There are green roofs on top of small sheds, on houses where I suppose the original green roof was found on houses built into the sides of hills or on sod houses, as well as on top off office buildings and apartments. Garden roofs are being found in many big cities and some restaurants use them to grow their own produce when there’s no space available on the ground level. Possibly at some point I’ll have a shed or garage with its own flowery hair. For now, my gardens will have to be earthbound. But the possibilities of something else are intriguing, something to look forward to and learn more about. My gardens may be earthbound but my dreams don’t have to be!

My faux green roof after winter

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