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Gardening on a roof top
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A roof garden needs careful thought, especially if you plan one from scratch. Take specialist advice before you start work. One advantage of roof gardens is that they invariably have wide views - it's a bit like gardening on top of a hill - but you will also have similar problems with wind at roof top height. And temperatures will be more extreme than at ground level, too. Its a great opportunity to make a private green oasis that'll look intriguing to all who get a glimpse of it - but only a few will enjoy a closer look. These other Workshops might be helpful: How to do container gardening; How to cope with exposed gardens; How to cope with hot, dry gardens; How to install a garden watering system.
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Check planning or conservation area restraints do not apply to your proposed new roof garden. These relate to structures visible from the ground or those that alter the roofline of a building. The structural strength of your roof must be surveyed. It has to be capable of supporting the additional weight of your garden, and soil is very heavy without any planting. The bulk of extra weight in roof gardens is usually concentrated around the sides, where it is supported by load-bearing walls. The waterproof membrane of the supporting roof must not be breached, and the construction of roof top beds and paved areas needs special consideration. So too does dealing with rainwater - recycling it for use on planted areas is a desirable option.
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Remember when planning your garden that access will be restricted! Everything in the rooftop garden has to be brought up, through your living area and out into the garden. You will almost certainly reach a roof garden through an entrance in the middle, resulting in an L-shaped garden space.
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Safety is an important consideration. Every feature must be very securely and safely fitted. Winds will be more extreme, so baffling screens to make wind shelters and limit views are a good idea. So too are structures for shade because temperatures are more extreme, and heat will be radiated back from the roof surface. These should all be well designed and secured in the garden. Containers have to be stable, and not placed where there is danger of them being blown away.
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Consider your garden's layout and the materials you'll use. You will probably need some form of screening on boundaries to make shelter and perhaps to hide some eyesores - cooling fans and other roof top services. Trying to reduce the weight of hard landscaping materials is important. Timber and plastic are both useful for screens, arbours and other structures. Canvas awnings, tightly secured, provide good instant shaded spaces. Decking is a good, useful choice for seating areas. Fibre glass artificial rocks look realistic and are much lighter than the real thing for making natural features. Galvanised metal has become popular for containers and raised beds. Make sheltered places for any water feature in sheltered spots.
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When planting take the following into consideration. Temperatures will be approximately 5C higher than the air temperature at ground level. Wind funnelling can be a problem, with wind speed factors doubled on average, causing much greater water loss from plants. Roof gardens are like large container gardens. Make areas of shelter to widen planting options. Beds and containers should be lined and given adequate base drainage before filling with a lightweight planting medium. Lawns may use too much precious space and water in your roof garden. Roof garden plants need to be tolerant of high levels of sun, wind and drought. By making shelter, you will prolong the growing season. Trees are not really viable at this level, so use walls, fencing, trellis, pergolas and arbours for vertical planting interest. Mediterranean plants give you a good collection to select from as they thrive in similar conditions - grey leaved plants will be of particular use. Use larger shrubs for bulk.
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Decking is ideal because it is light and can be assembled on site
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You will probably do all your planting in containers
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Plant against boundary walls to soften their lines
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