By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Rooftop gardens are relatively new additions to condominium and cooperative buildings. They are a creative way to add green space, color, and tranquility in the middle of a dense urban or suburban setting.
Usually, if a condominium building has a communal garden or park on the roof, the association’s management company hires a landscape contractor to maintain them. But one Park Ridge (Illinois) condo association decided to fire their landscaper and start their own gardening club instead.
And, in doing so, five homeowners turned a relatively unused garden space into a lush oasis of fresh veggies and perennial flowers.
Up on the roof: Garden club thrives atop Park Ridge condo building
Two years ago, a garden that sits on top of a condominium building in Park Ridge was in jeopardy.
Residents said those in the building, at 170 N. Northwest Highway, were not spending time in the garden and it was cumbersome and costly for crews with a landscaping company to maintain it. It was suggested that, perhaps, the garden could be paved over.
“That kind of freaked me out,” said Gail Benedetto who moved from a home in Wheeling to her Park Ridge condo in 2009 with her husband, Rick Benedetto, now the vice president of the condo board.
Instead, she had an idea that would be not only environmentally friendly but also help build community — maybe the gardening should be done by the building’s residents. Today, that garden is thriving.
The garden is thriving now, but if and when the current garden club members tire of doing the work, or move elsewhere, will a new crop of owners take over the work of maintaing a lush garden on the roof?
The history of rooftop gardens
In New York City, condo and co-op associations started the rooftop greenery trend more than two decades ago.
Check out this 2007 article in The Cooperator for tips on keeping the rooftop garden safe and relatively easy to maintain.
And read this New York Times article written in 1998, in which experts caution condo and co-op associations to be certain their roof can support the weight of a garden.
Imagine that! If volunteer homeowners or board members skip the important step of working with a design engineer to create a safe rooftop garden, they could be blamed for causing roof leaks or failure of the roof structure under the weight of heavy planters.
This is serious business.
Other considerations for condo and co-op associations include:
- Addition of high parapet walls to prevent residents or visitors from falling off the roof
- Addition of automatic irrigation, or some alternate plan to keep the garden well watered — prepare for association members for higher water bills
- Some residents with units below the garden or overlooking the rooftop terrace may complain of noise or lack of privacy, unless proper sound and visual buffers are built into the design
- Condo and co-op associations must enact reasonable rules to prevent gardens from becoming hangouts for loud parties or smokers, and
- Insuring the garden and the association against all of these risks and other unforeseen damages
And one more thing.
The biggest hurdle to making the communal rooftop garden work: cooperation of owners. All must be willing to pay for installation and ongoing maintenance of plants and seating areas. And it also helps if a sufficient number of owners are willing to contribute some personal hard work and sweat equity to keep the garden beautiful.