Up On The Roof: Lawn or Garden

ngThe 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. And they have enough information from websites like unclutterer.com on how lawns can be maintained.


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 Lange
Sue’s bookshelf at bookviewcafe.com




Up On The Roof: Lawn or Garden — 7 Comments

  1. I’m with you about the lawns. Don’t know why people want lawns. I hate mowing grass, and I absolutely refuse to nurture the stuff. It’s not nutritious. It’s not pretty. At my house in Washington I was trying to choke it out with ivy and other ground covers — I was too lazy to try to dig it all up, but I never watered it on purpose.

    One of the many nice things about my apartment complex here in Austin is that they built it around a lot of trees — it’s called Oak Run and there really are a lot of oaks, plus something you might call a “run” when it rains (it’s dry otherwise). No grass, except a small patch right near the front office, where they also have some roses in a bed and a bit of wildflower pasture.

    So they don’t waste water on grass and landscape — a valuable thing in our recent drought. Too many apartment complexes here are either all concrete or else have lawns. I like mine much better.

    No green roofs, though. That would be nice.

  2. And the trees. The trees are great. There’s a huge oak that shades my apartment — I’m sure it keeps things cooler so I don’t have to run the AC as often.

  3. I turned my steep back lawn into a wildflower meadow, which, after some years of depressing erosion gullies, now looks very nice in season. The front yard is more moss than lawn, because all the sunny sections have been transformed into d/e/e/r/s/a/l/a/d/b/a/r perennial garden.

  4. Well, my daddy would prefer the deer to the perennials — he has a nice back porch at his new place and deer and raccoons come through all the time.

    Me, I’m thinking about exercising my right as a Texan to bear arms and start taking action against squirrels. (Joke. That’s a joke. I don’t like guns. I like swords. Hmm. Squirrels would present an interesting challenge as a swordswoman. Joke. Really. I promise. Please don’t call PETA.)

    Deer would be OK with me — they don’t jump up on balconies and bite the flowers off hibiscus and nibble new growth off of prickly pear. And the dogs would probably find them more interesting than the squirrels (I think I’m the only person in this place who doesn’t have at least one dog. Mostly nice dogs. I like other people’s dogs, on the whole, except when they bark all day.)

  5. The deer in my yard have neatly nipped off all the blooming tulip blossoms, all the hydrangea buds, most of the green raspberries, and the tops of all the tomato plants. They are the yard equivalent of the Taliban. The only good deer is one in a roasting pan, being marinated with red wine, some bay leaves, and a handful of juniper berries. I am ISO local bow hunters.

  6. Ray Bradbury has been a huge proponent and spokesman for this urban garden movement since the beginning. I met him when he gave a talk on the subject–oh, gosh, gotta be sixteen years ago now, ’cause I was pregnant with my middle daughter who’s 15.

    As an aside, I got his autograph on my Martian Chronicles and got to tell him that I’m a writer because of him. We both got misty-eyeed at that point. 🙂