Too much shade? Put your garden on the roof

A new two-car garage and veggies up top

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By Deb Quantock McCarey

Contributing reporter/Gardening blogger

In their retirement years, Oak Parker Phyllis Bowen says that she and her­ spouse Samuel haven't minded climbing the stairs up to their newly-constructed rooftop garden to watch the flowers, fruits, herbs and veggies grow.

In a way, it's the avid gardener's dream come true.

"I have always loved gardening, but I had so much shade in my yard that I couldn't grow vegetables," says Bowen, who two years ago retired from as a professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "So, our old garage was really falling down, and we thought, wow, what if we built a new one and put a garden on the roof?"

Last year, with the assistance of Hutter Architects and Premier Construction Services, they spent $60,000 to build a two-car garage complete with rooftop garden.

While they were at it, they also expanded their backyard patio space, which for their 50th wedding anniversary last June, the Bowens utilized for outdoor entertaining.

"Mr. Bowen, he's a physicist, so he did the recalculation for the roof pitch, and we went searching for the ideal products to support the garden, and found ourselves in places that we would never have thought existed," says John Klich of Premier in LaGrange Park.

The two men located steel, and fabricating warehouses which had in stock materials that Klich says provide the proper underpinning that will absolutely ensure that the roof can support the weight of a productive garden: on the wooden deck are 10 large rectangular raised beds, lots of large clay pots, plus pounds and pounds of soil, and water, the stuff needed, plus sun, of course, to sustain it all.

"Last year was our first year of gardening up there, and we had temperatures of 102 degrees," Bowen says. "I had to water all the time, and my tomatoes had cracks in them and stuff like that. So, since then, I have gotten all sorts of books, and everything, and I am going to read more, so this year I hope to do better."

Very soon, Sam, a semi-retired professor of theoretical physics at Chicago State University, plans to add a drip irrigation system, as well as an along-the-staircase lift to lug all the garden materials up and down for them.

Partially in view by summer, she hopes will be everything from tomatoes, peas and asparagus, to broccoli, cucumbers, lettuces and herbs. Also growing there is a strawberry and raspberry patch, plus dahlias, and her aromatic David Austin roses.

Two potted dwarf cherry trees will take up residence, soon.

"I love gardening," says Bowen, who formerly participated in the community gardens of Root Riot on Madison Street in Oak Park "I'm in nutrition, you know, so cooking is really a big thing for me. So now it is so easy to race up the stairs and get all the herbs and fresh produce…and then, later at night, Sam and I just love to go up to the rooftop garden and sit in those chairs and watch the moon."

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