The May issue of National Geographic had an article on the rooftop gardening movement. This ecologically forward-thinking fad is taking root in various cities as planners and architects work to solve a number of problems: excess storm water runoff, greenhouse emissions, high energy costs for building temperature maintenance.
Even if growing plants on buildings reduces global warming only a little bit, it is worth the effort. The real return is the change we’ll see in our culture. The rush to urbanization we’ve seen in the last fifty years has changed us all to the point where many people have no contact with the natural world anymore. They have no clue as to how it works and are, in fact, afraid of it. The ticks, the mosquitoes, the snakes, the very nature of nature – it’s unplannedness – frightens them.
If it becomes fashionable to live in a sod house, I say, great! Anything to get society over its nature angst. There is a possible drawback, however. Once people realize how much work a garden is, they’ll revert to their favorite suburban standby: the lawn.
I’d almost rather have a tar roof than a lawn roof. At least with a tar roof you know you’re not doing anything about your carbon footprint. With a lawn you’re nothing but a hypocrite. Even discounting the chemicals and gas a Prussian perfect monoculture requires for maintenance, there is a terrible impact on the environment. A lawn is a sterile mutation of nature. Why we love to surround ourselves with such an unnatural desert is beyond me. Even the actual desert is beautiful and teeming with thousands of interconnecting souls. Nothing lives in our suburban deserts. Wayward plants and animals try all the time, but we kill them the moment they tip toe in from the edge.
If people can get over their desire for a prim yet easy to maintain lifestyle, the roof-top garden idea might get some enduring traction. I see one of three scenarios that could effect this pie in the sky dream.
1) Homeowners and building maintainers will develop a true love of gardening and will maintain their roof tops sans lawnage.
2) Homeowners and building maintainers will develop a love of the varied and ever-changing gardenscape without developing a love of maintaining it. These folks will hire gardeners, landscape artists, and/or the neighbor kids to weed and shape.
3) Homeoners and building maintainers will get over the whole control thing and develop a love of natural succession. If they can see beyond the ugly-parking-lot-falling-into-disuse stage of their garden plot, they will be treated to the slow creep of native vegetation taking over. The birds, bees, and butterflies will not be far behind. Their rooftop won’t be Japanese garden perfect, but it will be a lot of fun to watch. And the tall grass will be a perfect place to sneak into and take a nap on your lunch break.
Sue’s bookshelf at bookviewcafe.com