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Gardening in the Sky - San Francisco CA


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Gardening in the Sky - San Francisco CA

  1. 1. Gardening in the Sky Every home may not have a yard, but every house has a roofW HEN SHE was just a little city At first she walked carefully on the girl visiting the farm her tar and gravel roof and established a mother’s family homesteaded beachhead with a lawn chair looking outin southern Illinois, Diana Arsham walked at the bay. Eager to grow her own food,into a pink peony bush, and it sparked a she planted pole beans under trellises andlove of gardening that has lasted all her other vegetables in wooden wine “They call it a bird’s-eye view for a “I can still smell it,” she says. “I bonded reason,” she laughs. “They loved it. I gavewith that plant.” them a buffet.” At college, her dorm room was filled So she decided to stick to plants andwith plants. After she graduated and flowers and kept climbing up with moremarried, many of those plants came on wine crates.the three-week trip that brought her and “Lher husband to San Francisco in 1972. UCKILY, we needed a new roof,”Like coals to Newcastle, she even brought she says. That provided thean avocado tree, which had to be cleared opening to build a stairway andby the agricultural authorities when they develop the full potential of her rooftopentered the state. garden. A structural engineer reported “Well, I started it, and I grew attached that the perimeter walls could bear theto it,” she says. “I still have a peanut cactus weight of a garden. The center was shoredI brought. It must be 60 years old by now.” up with redwood rafters. Urban gardening required extra effort. The wine boxes she’d been using wereAt their first apartment on Green Street, too shallow. An ad in the Sebastopolshe climbed out the window to water the newspaper offered 55-gallon plastic barrelsplants she grew on top of the garage. And that once contained apple juice, whichthen when they moved up the hill to their she cut into thirds and drilled with draincurrent home, at first she climbed up a holes.ladder onto the flat roof. “They’re ideal,” she says. “They’re “Look at the view,” she says, spreading lightweight, and plants don’t really needher arms out over the blue waters of thebay, with Angel Island in the distance. more than a couple of feet of soil.” By the mid-80s, Arsham had become “ You look out over the rooftops of San Francisco and“Look at the sunshine. I thought, ‘How a true Californian, making annual you see parking lots. I see potential gardens.”can we not have a garden?’ So I’ve been up pilgrimages to the Tassajara Zen Center,here nearly every day for 25 years.” TO PAGE 14 4 DIANA ARSHAM, working in her rooftop garden
  2. 2. 4 FROM PAGE 13where she volunteered in the gardens offers two simple pieces of advice: Watch your roots. And pay attention to Growing More, Watering Lessand the kitchen. She became a docent maintenance. Dat the Strybing Arboretum, now the She has the wooden deck restained IANA Arsham’sSan Francisco Botanical Garden. every three years, and the deck in turn has rooftop gardenShe developed a missionary’s zeal for protected the roof underneath from the has changedsustainability and urban gardening. ravages of wind and sun. considerably in the 25 “You look out over the rooftops in San As in any garden on the ground, years since she grewFrancisco, like most cities, and you see there have been challenges from pests. her first crop of poleparking lots,” she says. “I see potential In addition to birds, there are sometimes beans and saw themgardens.” slugs and roof rats and even the occasional eaten by the birds. raccoon. Vegetables takeS O SHE volunteered with San “I haven’t had a coyote yet, but I far more vigilance Francisco Beautiful and chaired wouldn’t be surprised,” she says. Her — and water — a task force that developed and attitude is live and let live — except for than other plantspublished a booklet to encourage more the slugs. she has embracedrooftop gardens. It has been a The neighbors have as her ecologicalbestseller — at $7 a complimented her on consciousness haspop — brightening their outlook, grown and sheand has helped many and her efforts have inspired has become everother city dwellers at least two more gardens more committed torealize they can share atop nearby homes. permaculture —the joy of gardening, “People come up and say, sustainable permanenteven if they don’t have ‘Well I could do this,’ ” she agriculture thatyards. The booklet is says. Succulents add visual interest, but take little requires little water.still available through water, says local gardener Diana Arsham. “I’ve been blessed ER HUSBAND has by happening onto The city’s planning been supportive, succulents,” she says. “They take very little water, and they have suchcode doesn’t make it but he steadfastly interesting shapes. They add visual interest even without showy flowers.”simple to get a permit refuses to help with the She waters only once a week, except in the rainy season, when she doesn’tto create a rooftop heavy lifting. water at all. And she waters by hand, rather than with the automatedgarden, so most people “If I want it, I have to drip system many gardeners prefer, maintaining that it results in a closerdon’t ask. The political carry it,” Arsham says. connection with her plants and uses less water.leadership to change Practical guidance on how He does take on the A visit to her rooftop garden on a sunny afternoon in early March revealscity policy has not yet to create a rooftop garden weekly watering duties a riot of succulents in variegated colors, shapes and sizes — and not a fewemerged. is offered in a booklet when she’s out of town, showy flowers, including blazing orange blooms on ice plants and yellow “That remains to be written by volunteers at and it’s clear that both spikes on chocolate colored aeoniums. San Francisco Beautiful.done,” Arsham says. “As Visit Arsham and her husband “We pretty much bloom in the winter,” she says. “Summer blooms takethe green movement derive great pleasure from too much water.”continues, I can see the climbing up the stairs to Many of her plants are in fact summer bloomers from the southernrules being reworked to encourage more their garden in the sky. hemisphere — especially Australia, Chile and South Africa. They do well inroof gardens.” “It’s like a place in the country with no San Francisco’s temperate climate. Native California plants also naturally do After more than two decades of driving,” he says. “When we come up here well in the city’s wet winters and dry summers.gardening on top of her house, Arsham it’s like we’re not in the city anymore.” THE NEW FILLMORE ■ APRIL 2008