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23 June, 2019 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 22 June, 2019 09:12:48 PM
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ROOFTOP GARDENING

A little patch of green on top

FAISAL MAHMUD, DHAKA
A little patch of green on top

Dhaka resident Zania Haque is a gynaecologist and an amateur gardener. She started growing herbs on the window sill of her flat at Dhanmondi in 2014. As her passion for gardening grew, so did the number of plants on her sill. The gardening enthusiast soon realised that she needed a bigger garden.

Given the space crunch often witnessed in apartments in the city, Zania's only option was to move up—to the rooftop of her building.

Today, the rooftop garden in her six-storied apartment is thriving: she grows lemons, chillies, papayas, carrots, okra and aubergine, as well as a variety of leafy greens. The daily harvest is shared with the building’s other residents.

Zania is one among many who are successfully growing rooftop gardens. As urbanisation replaces bungalows with multi-storied high-rises, the space for gardens has been taken over by car parks. The plants that do grow in some of the abbreviated green spaces are largely etiolated. This is due to lack of sunshine and fresh air as these plants often stand in the shadows of tall neighbouring buildings. It is only natural then for open rooftops in cities where summer temperatures do not cross a scorching 40 degrees to serve as healthy alternative spaces—if somewhat challenging—to grow a garden.

The trend of rooftop gardening started gaining popularity in crowded urban areas around the world more than three decades ago. While different cities need to adapt their gardening efforts according to the weather, this trend caught on globally, prompted in part by the fear of pesticides in commercially-grown produce.

Some of the obvious advantages of having such gardens in Bangladeshi cities include the cooling of the rooftop and the house below, encouraging practices such as composting and rainwater harvesting, and of course, the luxury of enjoying a green space in congested cities.

Experience of an expert rooftop gardener

Anwara Ferdousi, a Dhanmondi resident who has been maintaining a rooftop garden for nearly 15 years now, said growing leafy salad greens and seasonal potted flowers on the rooftop or terrace garden is simple enough.

But growing trees requires a lot more care, especially with the soil used. The soil must be very lightweight yet nutritious and not get water-logged. Hence, a porous addition to improve drainage is essential, she added.

Anwara has planted perennial fruit trees in hardy plastic drums (100 litre capacity) and the largest available grow bags. The trees on her rooftop (4,500 sq feet approx) include guava, jamrul, dragon fruit, mango and banana.

Seasonal vegetables are planted on beds which are three feet by four feet with a depth of three feet, raised at a four-brick height. These beds are made of wooden planks lined with plastic roofing sheets. The vegetables include beans, sponge gourd, ridge gourds, snake gourd, bitter gourd and bottle gourd.

“Sweet potatoes, turmeric and ginger are grown in separate grow bags deep enough to cater for tubers,” Anwara said.

Since the soil must be lightweight so as not to overload the rooftops, the potting mixture must be frequently enriched with rich, but not clayey, compost. This is an important aspect of such gardens as most are organic, said Anwara, who makes her own compost.

She collects wet kitchen waste—usually vegetable and fruit peels, tea and coffee grounds, and egg shells—from her entire building. These are layered in a big plastic drum in which she has bored holes all around for aeration. The wet waste is alternated with dry waste (dried leaves from the terrace garden, coco peat or a handful of red soil).

This container is raised on bricks and a vessel is kept under it to catch the fluid that leaches as the waste decomposes. After about 20 days, the drum is given a shake: the accumulated fluid is diluted with water and used as manure for plants. It takes about 45-50 days for the waste to decompose, after which it is transferred to heavy plastic sacks. It is left for another month and then utilised as manure for the plants.

Organic gardens do struggle to control pests, though rooftop ones suffer less than the ones at ground level. Some common deterrents include using chilly and garlic decoctions, neem oil infused with common detergent and marigold petals, said Anwara.

 

What makes rooftop gardens work and what doesn’t?

Experts said the mostly moderate temperature in Bangladesh allows such gardens to grow all year long. But in summer, maintaining such gardens becomes hard due to various reasons.

Even with shaded awnings, the temperature is often too high in the months of May and June to allow a garden to thrive. This is further exacerbated by the problem of water shortage. Any available water in the overhead tanks of the building is often too hot to use.

Besides, the spread of rooftop gardens is still mostly restricted to private home owners like Anwara.

One of the challenges with such gardens in an apartment complex is that unlike private homes, the rooftop of such a building is a common space and it is not always easy to get everyone on board. Residents on the floor immediately below the roof are often worried about seepage, a commonly experienced problem. Getting the rooftop professionally waterproofed is therefore a must.

In Dhaka, rooftops sometimes have a mosaic of broken china tiles which leave them well-protected for the most part against seepage. In areas in the older part of Dhaka, the roofing is usually mud phuska, a type of insulating medium, with brick tiles. Here it is essential to use a good waterproofing agent as the final pointing agent for the tile layer.

For rooftop lawns, a bottom layer of sturdy tarpaulin is also recommended. Drainage of planters is very important and placing the planters on brick steps is also a good idea, said rooftop gardening experts.

In a Stamford University survey of 2,700 buildings at Dhanmondi, Lalmatia, Mohakhali DOHS and Uttara, researchers found 36.4 per cent rooftops were used for gardening. This study was done two years ago, in both summer and winter.

Asked about the benefits of rooftop gardening in urban areas, Prof. Kamruzzaman, chairman of the environmental science department of Stamford University, who led the study, said plants keep the atmosphere cool.

He claimed it can be inferred from the study that areas where rooftop gardening is popular remains cooler during hot days. Temperature difference varies from 1.8°C to 5.4°C due to lack of greenery, Prof. Kamruzzaman said.

Another study conducted by the Green Savers Association found that in Dhaka, the roof space was 1,800,000 katha out of which 810,000 katha was usable.

Ahsan Rony of Green Savers Association said: “Of the total roof space in Dhaka, 3 per cent has a garden at present. We have the possibility to make the city greener by using more rooftop space.

“Organic growing gives mental satisfaction. The availability of nurseries, equipment, seeds and services—including total maintenance, nursing packages, and even clinics for the plants—is hastening the rise of rooftop gardening in Dhaka,” he added.

This rise has also created demand for soil, drums, fertilisers, seeds and other accessories. This is why a large number of nurseries and other related accessory service providers have come into action. They also provide digital services, offering accessories and gardening packages online. They have small, medium, and big packages.

“These packages provide everything that is needed for a garden, including consultations, design and planning services, gardening preparation, soil, fertilisers, pots, plants, seeds, primary accessories, gardeners, and more” said Ahsan, who runs a company which provides package rooftop gardening services.

 

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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