A few months ago I moved into my first apartment in downtown Easton. Typical of a center city, everything is within walking distance but there is a lack of parking. Every day I would walk down the alley behind my building and take notice of a large black gate with a lily painted on it. In the middle of the lily, there is a cluster of green broccoli painted at the center. I never knew what those doors lead to until one spring day when the doors stood wide open welcoming me in.
There it was; the most colorful, beautifully maintained garden store. There were herbs, vegetables, flowers, grape vines, apple trees and much more. These gardeners had just about anything you could think of: Indian spinach, rose bushes, mint (for summer drinks), cilantro, parsley, daisies, peppers and more. The interesting part of it all was that, with the exception of the herbs dispersed throughout, everything was flourishing within its own pot. I walked through the large black gate, amazed by the fact that this had been hiding right behind my building the whole time. The enthusiastic gardener approached me quickly, offering helping information.
The first question I had was how I can have my own garden if I don’t have a backyard. She explained to me that I didn’t need a backyard to have a garden. As long as I had space, sunlight, water and a pot to plant; I was ready to begin my garden. I looked at her enthrallingly, hanging on her every word. I had entered the garden store with an open mind that was ready to learn, but I left with a goal. She walked me through the garden, showing me the many pot sizes and varieties of fruits and apple trees. She wanted to assure me that these plants could thrive without a connection to earth.
That’s when I began to wonder. If my plants were going to live on my roof how could I protect them from the scorching sun and aggressive insects? She explained confidently and calmly that I could create a cover out of wood or tarp and cover it with reflective paint. This reflective paint would ease the impact of the summer sun on the plants. This prevents the plant from going dry and withering. Another suggestion she made for keeping the plant hydrated was to put a wine bottle full of water upside down in the soil. As she noticed my perplexed reaction she informed me that the wine bottle would keep the plant hydrated all day, ensuring that it was safe while I was gone.
The gardener emphasized that all her products were all natural, including the insect repellent she used. She didn’t use any special pesticides or chemicals; she just planted herbs around and throughout her garden. These herbs consisted of cilantro, chives, parsley, basil, mint and much more. She explained to us that herbs act as a natural insect repellent, protecting the plants and adding no additional costs. And in the end, we can dry these herbs and use them to spice up our meals. No wonder she had the ability to grow blueberries, peppers, apple trees, scallions, spinach and raspberries within one area. When I was enlightened to this fact I was stunned. This seems like such a simple idea, I can grow my herbs and spinach simultaneously without the fear of insects tearing apart the plants. Why doesn’t everyone take that approach?
This gardener does not just use this tactic because she likes to, but because she is involved with the local farmer’s market that stands right in front of my home Wednesdays and Saturdays of the summer months. The farmers market is governed by guidelines to ensure that the public is being offered the freshest food within the community lines. They want their participants to steer away from chemicals, preservatives and pesticides that may alter the growth of their food or negatively impact the community. They also want their gardeners and farmers to use proper farming methods in terms of space, animal treatment and sanitation. So as I listened the gardener speak, I trusted in her words and begun to think about my own garden.
As my eyes gazed over the lilies, roses and daisies; I thought about how great it would be to look outside my bedroom door and see all these colors. Walking around the garden store, I even spotted the beginnings of an apple tree in a large pot. I had wanted to start my own little garden, but didn’t think it would be feasible since I only had access to a rooftop. I had assumed that to grown something we can consume, fresh soil or actual land was necessary. However, what I learned that day was you can grow and maintain anything in a pot. Sometimes it actually makes it easier because the gardener can maintain everything in a smaller area.
That day the gardener gave me hope that I would be able to grow my own foods. She told me I would have to take extra precautions due to the direct exposure of sun on the plants, but that it was completely possible nonetheless. With all these useful suggestions on how to grow plants without the use of chemicals, keeping them hydrated and protected from the sun; when I left I was completely confident that I could have a prosperous rooftop garden. She even offered helpful tips on how to keep perennials safe during the winter months. I was surprised at her solution, we must use mulch! The mulch creates a layer of protection from the snow and ice. So once winter is over we can remove the remaining mulch and our perennials will sprout up once again.
At this point you may be asking, what’s so fascinating about this garden store? This garden is a true definition of eating locally. They are located smack in the middle of the city and utilizing every part of their medium sized yard. The most interesting part of it all is in the location itself. Instead of a farm or trying to obtain more land, they use every area effectively allowing the plants to help one another. They are conveying how easy it can be, influencing others to take interest. Their open doors give a welcoming feeling where the community can create relationships and bonds with not only the gardener but the food. They’re not just offering information, they are setting an example.