Binstore Green Roof (Part 3): Plants, plants, plants…

We’ve had our binstore with its green roof since March and it’s been lovely not to return home each day to our recycling bins lining the drive. In that respect the binstore has been a great success, but until this week the green roof was only very partially planted, waiting for me to source more plants and get round to putting them in. The substrate had been added and the binstore even has resident bees nesting in the holes in the side, so now it’s time for the best bit – choosing and adding the plants.

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The thyme corner

The first plant to go in was Thymus vulgaris ‘Silver Queen’. Thyme seemed a natural choice as the site is in full sun and the substrate purposely low in nutrients to make it suitable for sedums and other alpine plants. Next I added two small sedums which I found at my local nursery – Sedum spathulifolium‘Cape Blanco’ and Sedum spathulifolium ‘Purpureum’.

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The first few plants arrive…

To Eat or Not to Eat?

I had a few Dianthus deltoides and Armeria maritima left from some planting in the front garden and gravel path, so I also added these to the roof. By this point I’d abandoned the principle of only including edible or otherwise useful plants and decided that aesthetic appeal could also count on the ‘useful’ front as they make me feel good, especially when the Sedum ‘Cape Blanco’ flowered and then retained its yellow flowers for weeks and weeks. I’ve also decided not to grow alpine strawberries on the roof this year. I was intending to dig up some Fragraria vesca ‘White Soul’ which I’d grown from seed last year and planted temporarily in the front garden, but their temporary position seems to be suiting them and they’re thriving, so it seems a shame to move them. Instead I’m going to grow some more from seed and plant them in the roof next year.

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Sedum flowers shining in the sun

Handy Herbs

Then, earlier this week, I was ready to add the rest of the plants. I planted an Indian Mint (Satureja douglasii) which is a lovely trailing herb with light green leaves and dainty white flowers. It can be used as edible edging in hanging baskets and containers, and although it isn’t a true mint (it’s a tender perennial), it can be used to make an aromatic mint tea. I also planted another Satureja – Satureja montana or Winter Savoury. This hardy perennial is great with mushroom dishes and in stuffing. It can also be used as a replacement for thyme in many recipes. Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor) joined the herb collection, to be used as a cucumber flavoured addition to salads, sauces and sandwiches, along with French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) for adding flavour to chicken dishes.

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Thyme and dianthus settling in nicely

Edible Flowers

I’d grown two varieties of nasturtium from seed – Tropaeolum ‘Tip Top Velvet’ and Tropaeolum ‘Salmon Baby’, so I added my small plants around the back and sides of the roof. These will hopefully trail downwards to create colour and also provide spicy leaves and petals for salads. Previously I’ve grown nasturtium in the veg beds with the kids and they haven’t flowered well, possibly because the soil is too high in nutrients. I’ll be interested to see if they flower more prolifically in the lower nutrient content of the green roof substrate.

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Nasturtiums ready for planting

 

Local Treasures

Last weekend I spent 12 hours over two days selling plants I’d grown from seed at my son’s school fete and at our local community garden open day. I love meeting people who are interested in plants and helping to raise money for good causes. I also get to explore other people’s plant donations and add to my own stocks by buying a few lovely specimens. This year I bought some Sempervivum arachnoideum to add to the green roof and some cheerful dahlias for the pots at the front of the house.

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At head height the sedums and sempervivums can be appreciated in all their fine detail

Thyme and Chillies

I added another thyme – Thymus x citrodora ‘Aureo’ next to the silver thyme and then I selected several chillies from my seemingly endless collection this year – ‘Piri Piri’, ‘Habanero Red’, ‘Habanero Big Sun’, Prairie Fire’ ‘Albertos Locoto’ (tree chilli) and ‘Jalapeno’ and planted them in the middle of the roof. I’m not sure whether they’ll thrive – it’s a bit of an experiment. I’m going to feed them to encourage flowering and fruiting and we’ll see how it goes.

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Chillies in their new home

Climbing Companions

Finally I planted some Thunbergia (Black-eyed Susan) at the base of the binstore where they will hopefully climb up the trellis, covering the front with summer colour and meeting the nasturtiums as they trail downwards.

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The thunbergia began to climb almost immediately

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And within a week has produced its first flower

An Inspiration Gap

There is still one space at the back of the roof which is empty. I’m not sure what to add to finish the roof for this season – it needs to be happy in full sun, be able to tolerate fairly poor soil, look attractive and, if possible, be edible. I’d love to hear any suggestions for this space as it’s always great to grow and learn about new plants.

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The final space…

Over to You…

Please leave me your plant suggestions in the comments and I’ll pick one or two to plant in the roof. I’ll include a comment below in a week or so, to explain which suggestions I’m going to get and why. Then I’ll post again later in the summer when I’ll hopefully be able to share images of the plants in at their best, including the selections offered by my readers.

Thank you in advance and do subscribe to my blog so that you’ll hear about the progress of the green roof in a few weeks’ time.

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Chillies and nasturtium waving in the wind

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The (mostly) completed green roof

The Bee’s Knees

Earlier this year I decided to focus on pollinators at the school summer fete plant stall and since then I’ve been a little obsessed with growing and learning about plants which give our pollinators a helping hand. I’ve been raising a small army of dwarf sunflowers from seed (Helianthus annus ‘Little Leo’ and ‘Waooh!’), dividing garden plants like Echinacea purpurea and Monarda didyma, and still have Nasturtium and Marigolds (both Calendula officinalis and Tagetes patula) to sow.

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Some of the sunflower army ready for pricking out and potting on

I’m planning on creating a pollinator quiz at the fete to encourage the children to think about the role of insects in our lives. Entries with correct answers will be entered into a draw to win a ‘make your own bug hotel’, which will hopefully give one of the children the chance to get up close with pollinating insects in their own garden. We’re also taking a class of students to a local community pollinator garden so they can learn a little more about these important insects and then help the volunteers plant sunflowers in the meadow. The plan is to use these nutrient and moisture hungry plants to reduce the fertility of the soil ready to sow a wildflower meadow for pollinators later in the year.

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Pollinator fun for the kids

My daughter and I had fun a couple of days ago creating a butterfly bath next to the bird bath so our welcome visitors could drink without danger of submersion. The back garden currently houses two bee and insect hotels, one made by the kids and one given to us, to try and encourage as many pollinators as possible. I have also tried providing sugar solution on a sponge, but without much take up, so perhaps that’s an aspect of our hostelry skills which needs honing this summer.

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The pollinator and bird baths – apologies to the birds as theirs needs a bit of a clean!

 

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Last year’s homemade bug hotel

 

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And the deluxe version

Then today, the bee’s knees – quite literally, as we noticed that solitary bees were building nests in our new green roof binstore. I’d put holes of different sizes in the side of the wooden supports when we built it in the hope that the bees would find it accommodating. We’d previously found one hole blocked up with mud which told us that bees were using the holes to lay eggs. When we were in the front garden today laying the gravel, there were several bees investigating and filling the holes. In fact, in between leaving this afternoon for the allotment and returning, another hole had been filled.

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This one’s taken, mate…

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The completed bee nest

During the day we laid gravel on the side garden which now only needs a few extra plants adding when the weather gets a bit cooler, and started the dinosaur garden in the allotment (more on both of these projects in another post.) Sunshine, three generations of helpers and lots of laughter ensured a good time all round, and the bees were a lovely addition to a fun and satisfying day.

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This bee spent ages trying to decide which hole it preferred

Binstore green roof (part two)

Pallets and Pj’s

No sooner had we been woken this morning by our two mini tornadoes (the kids) than the bell rang with the exciting news (in my eyes) that the green roof substrate was waiting outside. In the end, creating our own 2-5mm crushed brick proved impractical and I was determined to use recycled materials, so I sourced a low-nutrient extensive green roof substrate based on crushed recycled brick and green waste compost from Garden Topsoil Direct. This evening I filled the roof and watched it change from a gravel pit to a promising growing space.

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Earlier today…

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Halfway there…

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The filled bed as the light was fading

Plant me…

I’d like everything in the green roof to have a use (although I might sneak in a few treasures just for their ornamental value), so I’ll start with the white alpine strawberries and then I can enjoy collecting various thymes, sempervivums and other alpine and small Mediterranean plants from nurseries, plant sales and flower shows throughout the year. Part three of this blog post will cover the planting and is the bit I’m looking forward to the most. Happy spring gardening! 

See how the idea to hide the bins started in Part One and read about the creatures which are now calling the binstore home in The Bee’s Knees…

Out with the Ugly: Bin with the New

Cars, concrete, lines of brightly coloured bins – not easy to integrate into a friendly front garden. My front garden, like many others around the country, has to accommodate these elements, but I’m determined they will not dominate it. I’ve already cut down the 20 year old Swedish Whitebeam (Sorbus intermedia) which was growing too close to the house and darkening our inside space. Then there was the removal of the patchy front lawn – not sure all my neighbours understood that one! Now I have a little planted space with evergreen structure and bright spring, summer and autumn flowers (more on that later) and a narrow gravel path with stepping stones interplanted with creeping herbs – Woolly Thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus), Lawn Camomile (Chamaemelum nobile) and Pennyroyal Mint (Mentha pugelium) and edged with delicate Thrift (Armeria ‘Rubifolia’). Beautiful, but not enough to completely deflect attention from the imposing purple and brown bins still lining the drive.

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From this…

 

 

 

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To this…

 

Mini Green Roof Beginnings

At Hampton Court last year I saw the beautiful blue binstore in the Community Garden and fell in love. I took lots of photos and spent ages asking questions about the construction and planting of the green roof. Unfortunately my budget wouldn’t stretch to an aluminium binstore, so with the help of a local carpenter, I planned a wooden structure with a green roof to hide my bins from the side view. Now it’s in place and the next task is to decide on the growing medium and plant it up.

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Loved this binstore

 

Crushed brick conundrum

At the moment the base of the green roof is lined with a plastic waterproof membrane and there is a drainage hose covered with a screwed down tea strainer. The base is filled with a shallow layer of 10/20mm gravel whilst I debate what growing medium to use. I’m planning a 30%/70% – inorganic aggregate/green waste compost mix and trying to decide between recycled crushed brick and expanded clay pebbles. The former is more sustainable and I can get it locally – but only in 20 tonne lorry loads. Currently I require about 90 litres, so I’d have enough left over to green roof the rest of my street! I’m pretty sure crushing the bricks myself isn’t a viable option as the particles really need to be 2-5mm and that’d be a lot of lump hammer wielding. Alternatively I can hire a crusher for upwards of £300 a day (!) So I’m coming to the conclusion that the local sustainable option isn’t viable unless I can find another 40 people locally who also want crushed brick for their own green roofs.

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Tea, anyone?

Having fun with plants

So with the rudimentary drainage system sorted and the growing medium (nearly) sorted I should soon be able to start the most interesting part of the experiment – the planting. The front garden is south-west facing and should be ideal for herbs. I’m intending to move a group of white alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca ‘White Soul’) which I grew from seed from under the apple tree in the front garden to the roof, where they’ll get more sun. Then I’ll add herbs like Lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus) and the trailing Indian mint (Satureia douglasii), alongside Sempervivums (which can also be used for medicinal purposes and which I think are really attractive little plants). I’m planning on growing some Black-Eyed Susan from seed to climb up the external trellis and to complement the planting in the narrow strip between mine and next door’s garden which is due to commence in a few weeks (more on that later too). And I might fit in a couple of my Cucamelons (Melothria scabra) to grow up it too for an extra edible treat. Who knows what the bin store will look like when it’s finished and what plants will ultimately take up residence on the roof as I experiment merrily. All I know is I’ll have a lot of fun and learn a lot along the way. See the next stage of the process in my next bin blog post and read about the creatures that call it home

 

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New bin storage with green roof nearly ready to be planted

 

 

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And a side border to fill with goodies…

 

 

If you have planted up a green roof I’d be interested to hear what worked and anything which didn’t work. Please leave me a comment – this is my first blog post and I’ll no doubt have lots of learning to do…

 

Dogwooddays does not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.