Thursday, 15 August 2013

Never look back (or down) on a rooftop garden (Plant Portrait IV*)


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.

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.


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.


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. 


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.


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. 


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.

*Plant Portrait is a partly ironic name for an ad hoc series of posts about things other than, but including at least passing reference to, plants. Often they will be inspired by a book or something else in my cultural life. The idea is borrowed (loosely and with extreme humbleness) from Milan Kundera's 'Novels, Existential Soundings', in his Encounters. These essays were as much, or more, about things other than the book being reviewed.

2 comments:

Jennifer Stackhouse said...

I thought roof gardens were all about reducing heat loads (worthy) and making buildings more saleable (marketing) but margaritas at sunset is a much easier read.

Tim Entwisle said...

Good points Jennifer. I wonder though about the heat load argument and whether there are cheaper or more effective ways with other materials (but I'm not an expert!). Particularly if you take into account upkeep and maintenance costs. But yes they make a building more attractive, which is marketable, and that's good and fine. I think they are fun but we can get a bit obsessed with their 'importance'...I think.