Up on the Roof

View of the Hugh Garner Housing Co-Operative in Toronto
The Hugh Garner Housing Co-Operative from the communal garden - with not a clue to the delights above

Many of the green roofs we hear about in the UK tend to be at the high end of the market, such as the Sky Garden in London. However, my visit to Toronto's Hugh Garner Housing Co-Operative  highlighted the possibilities for any housing development seen in our towns and cities.

The view from the roof garden
View towards Toronto's iconic CN Tower

It wasn't just a roof full of sedums either; this scheme showcases how a fantastic communal resource can be achieved, suitable for both entertaining and quiet relaxation, with an amazing view.

Lots of communal seating areas
I was delighted to meet Amanda from Cooking in Someone Else's Kitchen at last

I learnt so much during my time in Toronto which deserves to be blogged about, but this garden was the one which really touched both my head and heart. I nearly burst into tears of rage at the time as the UK doesn't have the kind of legislation Toronto has had since 2010. It touched a raw nerve as I'd recently learnt France had just passed something similar.

One of the walkways

To my simple mind it's a no brainer. We need to start building this way, so we have robust, healthy communities, with access to green space even in the concrete heartlands. London at least has made a start; its revised London Plan published in 2008 encourages the installation of green roofs and living walls.

chives were one of the first flowers to bloom after Toronto's cold winter

Note the Hugh Garner roof garden was built in 1983, well ahead of Toronto's legislation. The housing co-operative concerned is run on not for profit lines and the residents are from a variety of economic and cultural backgrounds. I hope future developments in the UK - such as the government's recent controversial announcement for the potential redevelopment of sink estates - leads to similarly enlightened schemes.

a pergola provides shade

Links to other Flingers' blogs featuring this garden - they're especially good for the design details:

Here's the Fling blog's overview of all the gardens we visited, plus links to everyone's posts about them.

communal veggie beds

More information about Toronto's legislation

Toronto's website is a fantastic resource which outlines the benefits of having green roofs and showcases lots of examples of a wide range of different schemes and designs.

It applies to new institutional, commercial and residential buildings over 6 storeys high and a minimum gross floor area of 2,000 m2. New industrial buildings were also included in the legislation in 2012.

Since 2010, 260 green roofs have been created (as at March 2015 and 196,000 m2 in area), bringing the city's total number up to 444.

Update: How timely. The UK parliament's Energy and Climate Change Committee has just asked for opinions via Twitter on whether the Department for Energy and Climate Change is doing enough to secure UK energy investment. So I've just tweeted this reply.

I feel a letter to my local MP coming on...


  1. Interesting post, and good pictures. It's a shame, but all to typical, that we lag behind in this country with such legislation. Flighty xx

    1. That's what got me so annoyed Flighty - at the moment it's down to what goes into local plans like London's and my understanding is that it may only be encouraged, not compulsory depending on how the plan is drawn up. I must ask my ex-town planner BIL about it!

  2. It was a wonderful garden and so surprising that plants could survive the winter on an exposed roof. I dream of having a green roof and may have to build a small insect condo with one!

    1. I wonder if the building's heat helped them survive. I'm looking at the rotten roof on my table bird feeder - I reckon a green roof would be just the thing. I'd love to put one on my shed too, but NAH won't let me :(

  3. I've been dreaming of a green roof since I first knew they were possible, but till recently it has been hard to find a residential suppliers who'd be willing to assist on such as small scale as mine. The Hugh Garner rooftop garden definitely filled me with green roof envy, and I was delighted we were able to gain access for the Fling. And delighted that others were as delighted as you were, Veep! Cheers to you! (Sorry to read about your sad homecoming. Retroactive hugs for that.)

    1. Helen - this was one of my must-sees pre-Fling and I'm happy to say I wasn't disappointed. I may have got angry over the situation here in the UK, but this visit was also inspirational. Thanks to you and the rest of the Fling team for making it happen :)

  4. Unfortunately, green roofs and green spaces amidst the urban cores of the city are really focused on the high end market.

    I can only talk about London, but I suppose it's true for most places as well.

    The problem is not cost. Green spaces are easy to implement and maintain. The irrigation systems are not that expensive, compared to the development of the property and maintenance afterwards is not more expensive than a regular garden.

    The problem is psychology. Most average people around London are way to busy and stressed. They think about money, paying the rent, paying the bill and only afterwards they get to tend to their comfort. In their eyes, a green roof is a luxury they can save for when they are rich.

    Wealthier citizens are very much focused on comfort and quality of life, since why else have all the money in the first place.

    It's younger generations (like mine) that are starting to recognize how important green life is in the concrete jungle and have started to integrate it into the urban structure - baby steps, of course.

    The trend is that we start using technology to bridge our gap with nature, instead of dividing us more.

    I published an article that discusses these gardening and lifestyle trends. Maybe you'll be interested :)


  5. Hi Audrey and welcome to Veg Plotting. Thank goodness for people recognising the problem and taking the baby steps you outline.

    Note that my Canadian example isn't from the high end - it demonstrates the possibilities for any housing scheme, which I feel should be built in (like this one was) right from the beginning. I think we need government legislation to help make it so in the UK, especially if the proposed rebuilding of existing social housing is going to happen.

    I'd also point you in the direction of Wendy over at Roof Top Veg Plot, a superb example of someone showing what's feasible on their own home in the heart of London.


Post a Comment

I love hearing from you and welcome thoughtful conversations :)

Comments aiming to link back and give credence to commercial websites will be composted!

Your essential reads

Jack Go To Bed At Noon

That blue flower: A spring spotter's guide

Salad Days: Mastering Lettuce

Testing Times: Tomatoes

Salad Days: Salads for Damp Places

The Resilient Garden

VPs VIPs: Derry Watkins of Special Plants

Chelsea Fringe 2014: Shows of Hands - Episode I

#mygardenrightnow: heading into summer with the Chelsea Fringe

Introducing the #mygardenrightnow project