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The low-down on gardening on the top floor

Rooftop garden.resize

Happy New Year to all our HomeTimes followers, we hope that you will have a wonderful year in 2018. What a beautiful time of the year it is.

I was fortunate enough to travel abroad this festive season, and what a treat it was experiencing different planting techniques and garden layouts; a very useful and inspiring learning experience on planting in small spaces.

Most cities in Europe comprise of high density living with few gardens in between and most people utilising public parks. It was wonderful coming back to South Africa with our plant diversity and garden spaces and definitely the friendly people which make up South Africa. South Africa is a real gem, our grass is greener, pun intended.

With the trend of South Africans moving from large high maintenance gardens to smaller secure estates and complexes many people are forced to have rooftop and balcony gardens. Creating small, unique gardens on a balcony or flat roof area has a lot of potential, but such spaces do present a few special challenges and safety is a major consideration.

Note: Remember to keep things within your structure’s load-bearing capacity. The size of the plants, pots, moist growing mix, containers and all other features can add up to quite a load. If unsure ask an architect or structural engineer to give you a few specifications on what load your balcony or roof structure can take. Waterproofing and adequate drainage is an absolute must. Check that your local by-laws permit such structures.

The good news is that with a careful choice of materials, the total weight of all garden components can be minimised. For example, use wooden decking rather than thick paving stones or tiles, use fiberglass containers rather than cement pots which will also help with alleviating the weight, use a mixture of potting soil with compost. This is better than using top soil which is much heavier when wet. Balconies and roof gardens should have barriers – consult building regulations governing minimum standards and heights for walls and railings.

Consider the elements

Urban rooftop garden with seating

Special consideration must be taken when planting and using containers as these types of gardens are more likely to be affected by strong winds and turbulence. Drying winds and full sun can turn a gorgeous garden into a desert within a few days. Remember too much shade can also be a problem. Ask a professional landscape consultant to give you advice.

If possible get a tap installed on your balcony or rooftop garden which mill make watering much easier, an irrigation system can be added onto this tap too.


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If the balcony or rooftop garden is open to the elements consider a roofing structure which will provide shade, and, should you be using this space to entertain, remember to check local bylaws and regulations, also get permission from your neighbours.

Into the night

Rooftop garden at night

Another key element of your rooftop garden is considering what it will look like at night, lighting is a must! Up lighting using a variety of colours adds contrast and other dimensions to your balcony garden.

A professional landscape consultant will give you the best advice on plants to be planted, many shrubs and trees have aggressive root systems which can cause detrimental damage to walls and drainage systems.

These garden spaces can be stunning if done correctly, doing it right the first time is much more rewarding than having to redo it. It may be costly in the beginning but it is much more expensive to re-do your garden if problems arise.


Who is Nicholas Spargo?

Nicholas Spargo, owner of Spargo Landscape Consultants.

Nicholas Spargo, owner of Spargo Landscape Consultants.

Nicholas Spargo, owner of Spargo Landscape Consultants, has been in the landscape trade for 12 years as well as being a lecturer at the Lifestyle Garden Design Centre for the past year. He was awarded a Gold for a design at the Lifestyle Garden Design Centre Design Show in 2008, is an Invasive Species Consultant and is affiliated with the South African Green Industries Council.

Landscaping and education are very close to his hear

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