Observe, then design - the right way to do
I love this time of the year.
In Taiwan, it means that the game of hide and seek with the burning summer heat is almost over and that there is only one month left before the end of the typhoon season. For many of us, it is a rebirth and that is also the case for our plants. As you may already know, plants are sensitive to temperature.
A very hot summer can be deadly for some of them while others will go through the heat with little damage. However, it is always good to keep in mind that even though your plants are native to tropical climates, a too hot or too windy environment can remain a challenge for them or even stop their growth. These two elements are characteristic of many rooftop conditions in Taipei, as it is with mine, for sure.
As I am writing this article, the temperature is still hitting over 30 C in the afternoon. In gardening language, that means it is still too early to plant seeds or repot anything. Indeed, seeds germinate when the soil is at a certain temperature and the seedlings will also thrive in the right air temperature. The germination and sprouting temperature vary according to the plant that you choose to grow.
All the information is usually written on the seed bags you purchase but can also be easily found on the Internet. Regarding repotting, as it requires the roots to be exposed to sunlight and to a different temperature than they are used to in their pots, it is perceived as a stressful experience for plants and the best thing that you can do to minimize their stress is to repot them when it is not too hot anymore. I will personally wait a few more weeks before digging my hands into the soil.
Now you might be wondering what can be done in September. Well, quite a lot actually. "Having your hands in the soil" only represents one facet of what is gardening and even though being physically involved in a garden is a wonderful way to spend time, I don't think most of us, I mean busy city people working from Monday to Friday, have actually time to do a heavy gardening labor every weekend or even every month. Which is good news because you don't have to!
A garden brings joy in so many ways and on a daily basis. For example, seeing plants growing well, having a good looking garden or harvesting and using plants for your own needs. It doesn't sound time or energy consuming, does it? What it requires though is a thoughtful design. Let's break the design concept into a few simple key words:
- Sun - Time
- Wind - Need - Water - Experience
There are two categories, the first one on the left side "Sun / Wind / Water" , concerns your rooftop conditions, while the one on the right "Time / Need / Experience" is about your ability, availability and goals for gardening.
Before buying plants, observe at different moments of the day how much sun your rooftop gets. Is it over 6hrs of direct sunlight, just 3hrs, or is it none? Maybe it is only indirect sunlight because your rooftop is surrounded by other buildings. In this case, is there any sun reflected from other windows onto your rooftop?
Determining the sun exposure will help you choose the right plants for your rooftop. No matter how much care you will provide to your babies, if they are sun loving plants and you have none, they won't last long. Sun reflection from other buildings as well as access to the sky (Can your plants see the sky?) can be considered as a source of indirect sunlight. Also, try to observe the sun exposure on your rooftop over the year as winter and summer don't have the same sun angle
Wind, as I mentioned earlier, is a significant element too. From which side does it come from? How strong is it? Is there any walls or structures to stop it?
If it is very windy, like on my rooftop, don't worry, you can still use structures or grow plants as windbreaks. Breaking the wind will contribute to generating beneficial micro climates in some areas of your garden where you could grow wind sensitive plants like some vegetable later on.
The same can be done for the sun by installing bigger plants here and there to create some shade during very sunny days.
Water is a more delicate topic. Ideally, you want your garden to be as water autonomous as possible. Why? Because if you forget to water your plants or leave for vacations (even just for a week) they might all dry out. And I am sure it has happened to most people at one time or another...
Water management can be thought through at every stage of gardening: during the designing of planters, when making your own potting mix which will retain more moisture or even by simply installing a drip irrigation system. There isn't one single solution and while thinking about which strategy to apply on your rooftop, it would be good to also remember how precious is freshwater. It only represents 3% of the whole water found on Earth and less than 1% of this tiny 3% can be used. The rest lies underground or frozen in polar icecaps.
Here in Taiwan, even though it rains a lot, the geography of the island makes it hard to collect rainwater. So in a way, it would be good to harvest your own rainwater and help reduce potable water consumption for agricultural purposes, which represents, by the way, 70% of the 1 % accessible freshwater mentioned above. It is a huge amount and you will see by trying on your rooftop that we can use way less water.
So, here are some directions you can think of for the next few weeks before considering purchasing new plants. Remember that designing a healthy and resilient garden is mostly about creating an environment where plants rely on themselves more than on you. Your first job is to understand what are your rooftop conditions and how can you use them for growing plants. In the next article, I will explain in more detail the second category "Time / Need / Experience". However, no matter what you plan to grow, using that awareness about the sun exposure, wind and water will always help you to reach your goals.
Feeling like sharing some music with you. Happy listening!