Wendy Shillam has been a self-proclaimed gardener since 1976. Her latest project is a 5m x 6m garden on the rooftop of her Central London home. Conceived in 2011, it is a thriving plot that contains organic fruits and vegetables.
“I started to think a lot about sustainability and the possibility that you could grow crops in a small urban situation. We put a few beds in and they were only 6 inches deep… I was thinking about growing small things like lettuces, but you can actually grow quite big crops in shallow soil.
The garden is really productive – I’ve got climbing courgettes, runner beans, sweet peas… just fantastic fresh produce. I’m learning what you can squish up and what you can’t. Radishes like a bit of space, lettuces don’t mind growing next to other things, and wild celery just pops up everywhere! The plot is a microcosm of a much bigger garden – every bed is influenced by the prevailing wind, the wall it’s next to, and what gets the sun. I’m always learning and I wouldn’t say I’ve cracked it yet.
I couldn’t live without some outside space… if you look around the roof tops here there is very little green and if you’re at ground level there is even less. We live in this extraordinary heat absorbent area – all the buildings are made out of concrete and reflective glass. We also live near Oxford Street – so there’s a lot of pollution from buses. I think my roof positively impacts our environment – the biodiversity of the area is improved; it absorbs heat – the rooms underneath are naturally insulated; and helps limit storm runoff to the streets below.
If lots of people had urban roof gardens then we could make a real difference to our cities. My garden is a real showcase for what you can do; rather than persuade the world to do it I’ve shown what is possible.”