Please welcome author Helen Babbs (My Garden, the City and Me) to Life on the Balcony as she gives us a tour of her London rooftop garden and some of the creatures that visit her from time to time. In case you needed any more convincing, Helen’s garden is proof that you can grow almost anything, regardless of how small or lacking in dirt your garden space may be…
My garden is a three metre square rooftop, attached to a tiny apartment in a chaotic bit of north London. The space is home-sweet-home but postage stamp sized. What makes my part of this paltry palace special is the fact my bedroom contains a glass door that opens out onto that fenced-in flat roof.
An over-sized balcony that was once a blank grey square, I’ve turned it into an aerial, edible garden packed with various potted plants. Knotted with climbing peas and beans, and scented with herbs and dotted with flowers, it’s a true living room where I can pick salad for lunch, and sun and moon bathe for hours.
As well as crops that can bear an entirely container bound life – runner bean, tomato, courgette, potato, garlic, radish, strawberry, salads and herbs – I’ve sought out flowers, especially night blooming ones. Summer evenings on the roof are perfumed by tobacco plant, evening primrose and jasmine.
I share the space with various creatures. There are havoc-wreaking squirrels and hungry slugs and snails, but also welcome beetles, bees, butterflies, birds and even bats. Pollinators are drawn in by the nectar-rich likes of lavender and sweet-pea. Ladybirds eat my aphids, birds eat my slugs and bats pick off any biting mosquitoes.
My favourite visitors are a dishevelled blackbird and his lady wife. He sits and sings on my fence posts, while she steals string from my bean poles. Their efforts mean a space that’s sandwiched between the Camden and Holloway Roads is sound-tracked with birdsong as well as traffic hum and sirens.
I love the fact my tiny rooftop kitchen garden has become a nature reserve of sorts. Spending so much time outside has made me even more curious about London’s green spaces. I’ve started exploring her wildernesses and getting to know more about the wildlife that makes a home here.
There’s something extra special about the nature found within a city sprawl. The fact that wildlife can be vigorous and that a range of creatures can survive and even thrive in such a seething, heaving place as London is brilliant.
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When Helen isn’t getting dirty on her roof, she’s a writer and journalist. My Garden, the City and Me: Rooftop Adventures in the Wilds of London - is her first book and has just been published. It’s about the glory of growing things and the ecology of a capital city. The book reveals how much wildlife urban areas can support and invites readers to see built-up spaces in new ways. Find out more at www.aerialediblegardening.co.uk and www.helenbabbs.wordpress.com