"I hope you're husband's alright with that love!" said a lady as she cruised by leaning on her tiller arm watching me crouched on the towpath, painting my planters hot pink. "Yeah, he's in touch with his feminine side!" I laughed. And so my cobbled-together-from-free-wood planters received a makeover after a rather fortuitous find of left over paint tucked away under my sink. Thankfully, my husband has been pretty accepting of this because it took just a few weeks and life on the roof was flourishing.
We have had, and continue to have, an endless supply of salad leaves. We enjoyed radishes every lunchtime for two weeks and I would most certainly be planting more radishes too if I didn't have to use their previous space to thin out my lettuces. Space is definitely at a premium in my garden and I'm trying to work out how much I can realistically fit on the roof.
At 61ft, of which about 11 ft is deck, I am left with 50ft of length. However, as I may have trouble convincing the rest of the family that we don't need space for boxes of sand and toys, firewood or bikes, combined with the fact that I'm not exactly sure how much is too much when attempting to navigate the waterways, I think we'll call it 30ft at most. Before going on the hunt for more free wood, there is another pallet on the roof looking eager for a freshen-up and my plan is to make that a home for my kitchen herbs, which are housed temporarily in an old cardboard box lined with plastic.
The amazing thing is that freebies keep coming my way, mostly from people who have watched me tending to my roof garden. Only yesterday I was offered two tarragon babies from a fellow boater. Donated seeds have left me with some burgeoning hot chilli peppers, which I am really looking after carefully as sadly I lost my tomato seedlings and sweet peppers to some high winds. Note to self (and other boat gardeners): be aware that on the roof of a boat, a garden has no shelter. I was a little gutted as I had so lovingly tended them indoors and had only just put them on to the roof ready to plant out.
Some major successes have so far been:
- Radishes – wow, I didn't anticipate growing such whoppers in a small space! I think they are most certainly deserving of a new planter all to themselves.
- Crisp Mint Looseleaf Lettuce – These have been a runaway success offering a delicious and endless supply of hardy leaves perfect for growing in a small space open to all the elements.
- The array of wild flower seeds I have sprinkled in the corners of each planter, and in particular my Alyssum Snow Carpet flowers have been attracting a lot of bee attention lately and that can surely only be a good thing.
But of course there have been a few failures, too:
- Rocket – I have had only the tiniest of growth and I can't imagine there will ever be anything worth eating. Tips anyone?
- Landcress – started great, but the minute I started picking it turned red and now seems well, a little strange... I'm guessing I let it 'bolt'.
In addition to these successes and failures I'm also growing Claytonia (Miners Lettuce or Winter Purslane), Bianca Riccia da Taglio (Salad Endive) and Bronze Arrowhead Oakleaf lettuce, which have all so far been pretty successful. Perhaps this is down to my carefully prepared natural soil, who knows?
The most amazing thing has been the rate at which my tiny roof garden has flourished and offered us food, confirming to me that even with limited space, growing some of your own is an entirely worthwhile exercise. When you consider that a bag of salad leaves at the supermarket can cost you £1.50 it seems crazy to not grow your own and I certainly think that we will have enough to last the entire summer at this rate.
There is of course just one problem and that is, I am now addicted and wishing I had a great deal more space in order to grow more. I am also in a quandary about what else I can grow on the roof. As much as I love lettuce leaves, I would dearly love to expand my repertoire, but my planters are shallow and I think that presents a problem.
Alice Griffin likes to write, garden and get crafty from her narrowboat, which currently cruises at 4mph up and down the Grand Union Canal. To see Part 1 of Building a Narrowboat Roof Garden CLICK HERE.
A tip from the folks at Green Shopping
Potatoes were our weakness as they are difficult to grow in shallow and small spaces, why not try a nifty recycled Turtle Bag Patio Planter? We've just grown a sucessful crop of veg and you can move 'em about if they get in the way.