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Garden Design

Never look back (or down)

Tim Entwisle

Tim Entwisle

August 28, 2013

I’m reading a few books together at the moment, including Oliver Morton’s Eating the Sun and Alvaro Mutis’ The Adentures and Misadventures of Magroll and a very disturbing book called Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics and the Legacy of Madison Grant. Two are hard copy, one on my electronic device.

All are relatively straight forward to read, with fairly linear narrative – although Magroll is a bit all over the place in a Don Quixote kind of way. The last book is bleak and challenging to the way we like to compartmentalise life into good and evil. But they are relatively easy to read.

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I do occasionally enjoy books that are hard to read, books that required what I gather Neitzsche called ‘slow reading’. They aren’t necessarily more worthy but they take more effort. Two obvious examples, and ones I’ve mentioned a couple of times in my blog already, are James Joyce’s Ulysses (which I’ve listened to right through but only read bits of) and Umbrella by Will Self (which I’ve read, more or less). Some of Cormac McCarthy’s writing I’d also put in this category. The only way I can get through this kind of book is to read and never look back.

The trick is not to stop and wonder, or try to work out what something means, or who someone is, or whether this relates to that, or something else. Stop for a minute and you sink. Perhaps like quicksand.

Life can be like that at times, and sometimes even gardening. I don’t mean your run of the mill neatly trimmed garden or even your ramshackle Aussie plant wilderness – they have more or less linear narrative, even if it might meander around at times. But rooftop gardens I think might be in the hard category.

During Openhouse Melbourne a few weekends ago I visited this rooftop garden at 131-141 Queen Street. It got me thinking about rooftop gardens and whether I liked them or even if they were a good thing.

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They are complicated and challenging certainly. Plants don’t grow easily above the 10th floor of a city building. In this case Bent Architecture (the project came out of a Committee for Melbourne Future Focus Group called ‘Growing Up’) have done a fine job creating beds of produce plants, Australian natives and the ubiquitous rooftop succulents.

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The winning design had a tree on top of the middle hummock, a banksia I think from this  picture, but the weight and root space required meant a climbing wisteria sculpture took its place. All good. In fact the whole design works well and I can imagine sipping margaritas up there on a summer’s afternoon looking over some delightful Melbourne building tops.

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So what troubles me? Perhaps the cost and effort when a few pots might do much the same. Perhaps the feeling we could do more at ground level with our parks and street landscapes and make a bigger green impact. Perhaps the highly engineered substrate.

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Would I enjoy it more if the garden consisted of old buckets and tin cans full of rampant tomatoes and pumpkins? Or maybe more climbers and strangling plants clinging to the brickwork?

I don’t think so. And in the end I’m happy with this garden and with rooftop garden. The secret is to not look back (or down for that matter, at 11 stories up). Don’t worry about how it got there. Don’t worry about whether it will survive (or is that looking forward?). Don’t question every species or selection. Just enjoy and move on. On to the next open building and on to the next garden where ever anyone chooses to put it.

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Literary note: I’ve just downloaded Terry Eagleton’s How to Read Literature onto my reading device so I may know more about literature, and reading it, soon.


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Catherine Stewart
10 years ago

Reading this post reminds me of my recent (and first) encounter with seeing Stoppard’s ‘Rozencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead’. Trying to go back and analyse what you’ve just heard is pointless – you need to just allow yourself to be taken along and let it fill your mind.
I too have wondered about the cost in many terms of lugging all that roof garden stuff up umpteen floors and then the energy/water required to keep it going. Some bolshie part of me sees it as a bit elitist too.

Tim Entwisle
10 years ago

Great feedback Catherine. Glad I’m not alone in my reading style! I’m still on the fence with rooftop and vertical gardens – are they a passing fashion or a really important addition to where we can garden? It’s the expense and engineering that puts many in another category (although we’ve always had rooftop gardens – i.e. pots on the veranda). But then maybe it doesn’t matter and we should just garden when and where we feel like it (don’t look back…). Tim

Julie Thomson
10 years ago

Interesting points from you both. I am not so tolerant of writing that doesn’t engage me … i have the sort of mind that needs to weave threads together as I read, so Umbrella was hard labour and if I wasn’t being paid to review it, would never have persevered with its rambling stream of consciousness, sorry Tim. I needed a Bex, cup of tea and a good lie down at the end — actually not unlike when I finish a hard day in the garden!

I don’t ponder too deeply on whether rooftop gardens are good gardening. They just make me smile. They seem so bloody heroic, trying to flourish among and soften the ugly elements of harsh urban design.

Carol Griesser
Carol Griesser
10 years ago

I am with you in the indecisiveness about roof-top gardens, Tim. I like the idea of having a garden instead of a concrete roof but as many others commented, the expenditure and resources needed are many, they could well pay for a small garden at ground floor or a community garden.
There is something else that worries me; our children. Remembering our childhood, visiting gardens, camping, excursions and in comparison, seeing today’s children glued to Tvs and PC’s and getting fat in the process.
Would all those children living in high rise buildings get shifted to roof-top gardens to break away from sedentary activities instead of playing in parks and learning from Botanic Gardens?
It is a lot easier with books; if they do not “grab me” in the first chapter, they get recycled!

10 years ago

A rooftop garden beats having no garden at all, but you have to have the money for it. And I guess that’s what seems so weird about them – why mass produce nature on something that isn’t in the least bit organic, when it’s easier just to do it on terra firma for a fraction of the cost.

sandra Pullman
10 years ago

I’ve read everyone’s comments and while not a huge fan of roof top gardens they have some very big positives. Although, the Burnley Roof Top Garden, I am a huge fan of. They can help reduce temperatures, improve air quality, give people who live in the concrete jungles somewhere to chill out and enjoy. They also reduce heating and cooling cost, reduce run off into our waterways, provide habitat for insects and fauna, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and can provide space for growing food crops in highly urbanised areas. So I think as our society is becoming more urbanised they are a garden of the now and the future.

Tim Entwisle
9 years ago

Great feedback and discussion (apologies for being a bit late in catching up…). It is a tricky one. Generally I’d support anyone planting anything (that doesn’t harm the environment or irritate too many people) so roof top gardens are fine if you can do them. And I do like the Burnley one. My main plea would be for people to keep using pots and tins and whatever they like to green up their balcony or roof, and not feel they have to get an engineer in to start a garden. On the energy savings side I’m all for them as long as they aren’t more costly than insulation and/or you get a real buzz out of the plants you grow.