Archive for the ‘Summer 2009’ Category

Terrace and Roof Gardens in Rome


R* and I have been back from vacation in Rome and the Greek Islands for a little over a week. We’re downloading our photos and reflecting on all that we saw.

We discovered that Rome must be the urban container gardening center of the world. R* and I spent a week wondering through Rome and made a game of pointing out amazing window boxes and roof gardens all over Rome.


Rome’s container gardens focus on greens, more than flowers. This must be because of the heat — it was nearly 100 when we were there in late August.


We stayed at the Hotel Torino in Rome. We felt right at home on their  roof garden where a complimentary breakfast is served to guests — and pigeon passers-by — every morning.

Check out Philip’s Garden Blog for a poetic post about roof gardens in Rome. I wish I would have known about these Secret Gardens of Rome before we left the Eternal City. In case the food alone wasn’t reason enough to go back to Rome, I also have to go back to check out more gardens.

Best Roof Garden Plant: Portulaca


Our pansies are past their prime and the lantana languished in the heat . . . but our portulaca is still perfect.

Portulaca is low maintenance (no dead-heading required!) fast growing drought-tolerant annual. As fall approaches, the portulaca is still pumping out flowers so we’ve moved this container to a high visibility perch on our roof garden. See how the portulaca is taking on a burgundy tint with lots of small red flowers? The only down side of portulaca, also called moss rose, is that the flowers are not open in the evening.

Portulaca seems to be out of style? I don’t see it sold often and I don’t see it growing in other NYC gardens. I’m wondering why … maybe because it is related to the weed purslane?

Here’s more information about growing portulaca.

My Hens and Chicks Look Sick


Bon Voyage! Thanks, Plant Sitters.


We’re heading out for vacation soon. We have a great friend to check in on the cat for us and he’s a very indepent sort anyway.  The plants on the other hand . . . after tending to our garden every day since May, we’re having a bit of separation anxiety.

Two friends in our apartment building have graciously agreed to water the plants for us. They need to be watered once a day, twice a day when it is above 90 and dry. Hauling the water up there every night is a big job so we appreciate the help.

To be on the safe side, we’re also using the Plant Nanny. We put recycled soda bottles screwed into terra cotta spikes into our most thirsty pots. They should self-water our favorite plants. The roses and herbs in particular take a lot of water, so this should be a good back up system.

Roof Gardeners, Meet the Raft Gardeners


Here’s some enchanting inspiration via Apartment Therapy. Even those of us who lack lakes can get some stylish small space gardening ideas from the Landskrona, Sweden Garden Guild’s contest. 

image: Skona Hem via Apartment Therapy

Growing Bulbs in Rooftop Containers


I’m looking for some advice on growing spring bulbs in rooftop containers. Can you help? We want to play some bulbs this fall and let them sleep up on the roof all winter and then bursting with some early color up there.

Since our pots are 12-16″, there’s not much soil there to insulate bulbs over the winter. We plan on keeping out pots right along a white wall on our roof, which will provide a bit of insulation, but still it will be cold.

And then if the bulbs survive the winter, it can get windy on our roof. It seems like we will need bulbs with sturdy flowers and short stems. Does this mean French tulips, a favorite of mine, are out? Seems like we’ll need hardy, short stemmed flowers.

I’m planning on using the bulbs only once and then discarding them. This is not the most frugal way to garden, we realize, but we don’t have the space to keep the bulbs in our pots and there’s no cool dark place in our apartment to store them.

I really like the varieties of tulips that ColorBlends puts together, though their site seems to be down right now.


I also remember loving crocuses when I was a young child, so I think these would be fun. I was originally thinking of a pink and white color scheme, but I couldn’t find any short stemmed pink tulips . . . then I started liking these orange Orcas.  They’d be great to cut and bring in the apartment and the color is great with purple crocuses.

Sunflowers Shine on a Brooklyn Stoop Garden


Sunflowers don’t immediately strike me as city flowers. Don’t they seem like they’d be happier out in a field somewhere?

And yet, check out this Brooklyn brownstone stoop garden. These sunflowers look amazing there — a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n roll with some bohemian thrown in for good measure. The yellow and brown bring great contrast against the worn brownstone red. Many people plant dark maroon foliage to match the brownstone, but where’s the contrast and the joy?

These sunflowers stretch up to the parlor floor, bringing the viewers eye up to the front of the house. And the sedum Autumn Joy looks great at the foot of the sunflowers where things could be a bit leggy-ugly.  I wonder if sunflowers could grow this tall on a roof garden. Would they snap in the wind?

Speaking of sunflowers and Brooklyn, don’t miss the New York Times article about Kirstin Tobiasson’s guerrilla garden on the Gowanus canal

Rest in Peace Willem Kwist, Roof Gardener

Check out The Villager for Willem Kwist’s obituary. He sounds like a fascinating man.

“Kwist would plant 400 tulips in April, irises in May and an azalea tree and numerous flowers and plants from all over the world throughout the spring, summer and fall. He also built apartment shelving, several photographic darkrooms and many wooden furnishings for friends,” says The Village.

Does anyone have any photos of his garden?

Best Roof Garden Plants: Miscanthus sinensis Cabaret


Miscanthus sinensis Cabaret wins the most valuable player award in our Brooklyn roof garden. As first year roof gardeners, we didn’t want to sink a lot of money on trees. We were also worried that trees might be too heavy for the roof or need too much water.So we’re using this grass to play a tree like role.

This large pots of a tall grass anchor the corners of our garden space, similar to what a tree would do. Earlier this season the Miscanthus sinensis Cabaret grass was a gracious background for perennials and some sedum. Now it is anchoring the corner with our petunias and geraniums.

This Miscanthus sinensis Cabaret doesn’t mind being whipped around by the wind and it makes a great sound as it shimmies in the wind. It’s our version of a wind chime. Also, this variegated grass has been most tolerant of roof garden’s extreme weather: the super rainy June and steamy July days haven’t bothered this plant. A few blades get brown and we trim them out in a quick monthly haircut.

We bought this beachy grass at the Liberty Sunset Garden Center after hearing that it wouldn’t need too much water and  it is “great for containers.” It has more than doubled in height since we bought it and is now about five feet tall. It is supposed to “send up coppery pink flower plumes in fall.” Something to look forward to.

We’re planning to overwinter this plant right on the roof. Come spring, we’ll cut off last years growth and fertilize it. We haven’t decided if we’ll try to split it into two 16″ pots or leave it as is. We want to do all we can to make sure this grass is with us again next summer.

More on Miscanthus sinensis Cabaret:
Grasses With Attitude – This Old House

Roof Garden Roses: Sale at


I gave R* two of Heirloom Roses’s tiny plants for his birthday in June. Here’s a shot of the tiny plants, co-planted with lavender, sage, and thyme — right when we potted them and put them up on the roof.


In this photo from yesterday, you can see that our own root roses and herbs took off. This bush is still flowering and is starting to lean against the lavender just as we hoped. We’d heard that roses are difficult to grow and often get attacked by pests, but we’ve had no problem. Call it beginners luck or credit these great plants.

We wanted to share this update on our roses because is having a sale. They’re offering over 160 roses for $7.95 each from now until August 2. This is about half off the standard price.

Some things to keep in mind:
Make sure you pick roses that are suitable for your growing conditions.
Keep in mind that these plants will be small when they arrive! Some people seem to be stunned by that.
Consider that the rose needs enough time to establish itself before winter shows up. “If planted in zones 6 and below caution needs to be taken to ensure that they make it through the winter,” Heirloom Roses explains.
Pick up some pointers about the rose sale in this GardenWeb thread.