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TURN A ROOF INTO GREEN SPACE

Gardens come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and can be found almost anywhere. Rooftop gardens have been a tradition in big cities and now they're popping up in small cities and towns.

Look toward the sky the next time you go for a Sunday ride, and you may see some great roof gardens. I've noticed them on the tops of apartment buildings, on top of flat-roof garages, and on top of businesses. Any place that is sturdy, flat and accessible is the perfect garden plot.

I visited my first roof garden not too long ago, and I was amazed at what was growing high above the sidewalk. This garden was in the middle of the Black Rock section of Buffalo. It was on top of the Grace Funeral Home, located on a busy street, where there was only space for a concrete parking lot and the tall building.

Tricia Grace and David Dunn are the gardeners. They built a deck about eight years ago surrounded by wooden walls with lattice work at the top. They started out growing just flowers that they would get rid of in the winter, but they wanted more, so they began adding to their rooftop garden.

The first large additions were evergreen trees. (It helps to be very strong if you have a rooftop garden. I think the biggest challenge is hauling everything up two or three flights just to get started!) These trees are in big pots and line one of the walls. They add great color to the wooden walls and are easy to care for. The Rocket Junipers grow about a foot a year, so it doesn't take long to have some very tall trees. Eventually these trees will be too big for the roof and Dunn will once again have the mighty task of moving these trees to a new home at the family cottage, where they will be planted in the ground.

The next addition was boxwood. This is a great shrub to work with. They are very easy to grow, and hardy. Boxwood can withstand the Buffalo winters, as easily as a hot, humid or dry summer. You can keep them in full sun or in partial shade, and if you have a mind to, you can trim boxwood into a variety of shapes. Grace has her boxwood in full, blazing sun and it consistently looks great, and needs little care.

All of the plants, trees and shrubs are in what look to be large, clay pots, however these pots are made of fiberglass, so they are strong, but very lightweight. Another important consideration when you are gardening two flights up.

Even though this deck is surrounded by walls, the garden up here is subjected more directly to nature's harsh elements. Wind, direct sun and heavy rains play a major role in the care of this garden. Choose plants and shrubs that can withstand lots of changes in the elements. Consider how much wind they will get, and how much full sun. These gardens grown in containers will need lots of water. Watering will need to be a twice daily ritual, especially on hot, windy summer days.

Growing up the side of the building, onto the roof and up and around a very large arbor is a beautiful wisteria. This vine is covering a wooden structure over the table and will provide a great shady spot to enjoy dinner. After two years, the wisteria was 30 feet high, and provided quick satisfaction.

There are pots on the ground, hanging containers, and splashes of color everywhere. Impatiens, vinca vines and geraniums are scattered throughout. More pots and containers hold lilacs, a ficus tree and a lemon tree decorated with a plastic lemon as the gardeners anxiously awaiting the growth of a real one. Trellises along the walls and a corner spot equipped with a potting table are two more features of this second-story garden.

Along the door into the house is a multi-tiered rack that holds the herb garden. Since both Grace and Dunn are avid chefs, they have a large collection of herbs in pots, just waiting to be used. Parsley, oregano, thyme and sage are just a few. In the winter, the herbs are brought inside and used fresh throughout the year.

In the fall, this garden is treated just like any other. Spent plants are cleaned up, the evergreen trees are wrapped in burlap to protect them against the wind, and the herbs are brought inside for winter use.

Almost everyone I have ever spoken with says working in their garden is heaven. For Grace and Dunn, they are just a little closer than most gardeners.

Jackie Albarella is a lifelong Gardenville resident and gardener and the host of the syndicated program, "Gardening For Real People," seen Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on WNLO.

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