Rooftops are often underutilized spaces that most owners overlook. But a really good (and unorthodox) way to revamp your otherwise drab rooftop is to start a sky garden.
A sky garden is exactly what it sounds like: a garden in the sky (AKA your roof). But it’s more than that. Having a sky garden says that you are dignified, sophisticated, and worldly.
But how do you go about creating one?
How to Start a Chicago Rooftop Garden
Because most people rent or own an apartment in a shared building, the first step should be to check with the landlord or building superintendent about attaining roof rights, or to ask what roof access you are granted as a tenant.
Attaining roof rights in Chicago (if needed), as well as many other metropolitan areas, can be an expensive and cumbersome process. Most of the time you will have to petition your idea for a rooftop garden to the building’s board or council, and then you must receive at least 75% approval before you can obtain rights and begin construction. Working with an experienced rooftop landscape architect can save you a lot of time and money.
Once rights have been secured, it is important in this step to get in contact with a contractor or the building engineer to assess the condition of the roof and help establish a list of necessary finances. If you decide to tackle this project solo, you alone will bear the burden of all insurance costs, maintenance fees, materials and other expenses.
These expenses can add up to be more than a pretty penny, so some homeowners may look to share the cost with another tenant in the building who is interested in the project as well.
After your finances are in order, the next step is to develop a plan. There are several things you must consider before rushing off to the nearest home and garden store, such as the layout of your garden, how many garden beds you’d like to have, whether or not you’d like raised containers, what kinds of produce and plants you intend to grow, etc.
It is important that you opt for sturdy materials, such as large half-barrel planters, which are unlikely to dry out or topple over under windy conditions, and raised garden beds that are at least 10-inches deep, to allow for proper root growth. In addition, you must also find a water supply. Especially during the summer time, garden beds must be watered frequently. If desired, automatic watering systems can be installed to alleviate the constant lugging of watering cans up to the roof and back.
What Kind of Plants Can You Grow in Chicago?
By now, a question you have in mind is “What kind of plants will prosper in the Chicago area?”
For those who are unaware, most of Illinois has a hardiness level of 5. Hardiness refers to a plant’s ability to tolerate certain temperatures. Zone 5 plants must be able to survive winters where temperatures are as low as -10 to -15 °F.
Most zone 5 gardeners wait until early to mid-May to plant vegetable and annual beds, both of which do very well so long as they’re not hit by late frost while young.
Plants that do well in this area include perennials like Echinacea, Phlox, Lillies, Poppies and Salvia. Most of these flowers are vibrant purples and pinks and will bring a lively, exuberant feel, and pleasant smell, to your rooftop.
If produce is more your style, carrots, beats, tomatoes, chives, parsnips, and spinach, among others, do well in zone 5 areas. Garlic, thyme, and sage would also fair well in the Chicago area.
The list of plants and vegetables is long. A quick Google search will yield more possibilities for your garden, so it’s worth checking out for more ideas.
While this may all seem daunting for most homeowners, hiring an experienced rooftop architectural design company can cut down the uncertainties and maximize your time and budget.