Gardening in the Sky Balcony & Rooftop Planters Forum

Gardening in the Sky Balcony & Rooftop Planters Forum

Planters for gardening on rootops and balconies

September 25th, 2014

Successful landscaping and gardening on balconies and rooftops, especially of condo towers, has many challenges that residents with terrestrial gardens in homes don’t share.

My goal with this forum is to make the reader/contributor aware of these somewhat complex issues, offer simple, straightforward solutions when I have them, share resources, and garner constructive input from other interested parties so I can continue to help sky gardeners meet these challenges.  Hopefully, gardeners can make high-density urban environments not only more beautiful, but also more eco-friendly with low-lifecycle-cost, sustainable Gardens in the Sky.

Residential and office condo towers are increasingly prevalent in dense urban and coastal areas, and contribute to the formation of heat Islands and global warming by adding heat-retaining surface area, unless they can be landscaped.  In addition, according to the American Institute of Architects (AIA). buildings are the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. According to estimates in the AIAs Architects and Climate Change report, buildings represent 48 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, with transportation and industry representing 27 percent and 25 percent respectively.

The Green Roof movement is great, but the ratio of wall-to-roof area is much greater on high-rise buildings.If Architects designed balconies with drainage and water spigots built into their clients high-rise buildings, it would make it easier for residents and offices to help offset their impact to a far greater degree, both in terms of cooling and exchanging oxygen for carbon, and absorbing other pollutants.

When I was developing a condo building in Miami, where my wife and I now live after years at sea, I wanted to create a livable rooftop with lush landscaping. Frustratingly, we were unable to convince the city building department, in 2004, that green roofs were insulation in and of themselves, so we were unable to have a grass roof.  I realized, however, that the roof surface area of a condo tower was a much lower percentage of the building surface area than the walls themselves.  Therefore I began a search for large lightweight planters that had a high ratio of surface area to weight to use both on the roof and balconies.

At the same time, I wanted to avoid problems associated with built-in concrete planters located on the roof, such as leaking and creating expensive structural damage to the building.In addition to being immovable, there are limitations on where built-in planters can be located, they are impractical on cantilevered balconies, and they impart heaviness to the building design that I wanted to avoid.

While lots of great looking pots exist, large surface area planters were scarce. Also, as I was soon to learn, pots had serious drawbacks for use up on buildings, especially on sunny south and west facing exposures.  As I proceeded through the sourcing process, I eventually assembled a list of attributes that I felt was important in these planters:

·Large surface area

·Aesthetically pleasing

·Variety of dimensions and materials

·Durable, with a low lifecycle cost

·Low impact on the environment


·Thermal protection for roots

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