Rooftop gardens offer urban communities places of beauty, quiet

A rooftop garden for a whole community? Why not, said Manhattan builder William Zeckendorf and a collection of neighborhood horticulturists who call themselves the Garden People. This garden, on top of the new Columbia Condominium at 96th and Broadway, will be a first of its kind.

The community group had been gardening at the Broadway lot for many years. Then the Zeckendorf organization won approval of a plan to put up the condominium structure on the site. It appeared that soon the Garden People would no longer have a gardening plot.

Mr. Zeckendorf then offered to provide a garden on top of the parking garage of the new building, and it was agreed that an open woodland garden would be built there. The builder also funded the special construction of the garage-top garden and set up an escrow account for buying and replacing plants, soil conditioning, and maintenance.

The architect of the new building has designed the 7,000-square-foot garage roof so there will be proper drainage, access for the community, and structural support for the elevated woodland glade.

The Garden People then turned to the Trust for Public Land, a 10-year-old nonprofit land-conservation organization, for help in planning the garden and in organizing its upkeep. The trust helped the community group set up its own nonprofit organization, Urban Woodlands Community Garden, to oversee the operation of the garden.

Carrie Petronio, Garden People president, is helping with the garden plan, which will include flowering shrubs such as vibernum, ferns, lady-slipper, trillium, dogtooth violets, and lilies. The group hopes to provide benches and walks in the garden to make this a quiet place for senior citizens, neighborhood residents, horticulturists, and school children studying trees and shrubs.

The rooftop garden is termed an innovative experiment at this stage, but those involved hope it can be a model for other areas that are losing green spaces to urban development.

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