Fortnum & Mason has been synonymous with good food in London since the early 1700’s, and now they’re venturing into farm-to-fork with Piccadilly produce. (Pun intended… so apropos 😉 ) They’ve been selling honey harvested from roof top beehives at the Piccadilly store for several years, hives that would make non-resident queen bees green with envy too – they’re stunning pieces of upscale architecture. Now there’s a garden up there too.
Installed this spring by Connected Roots, F & M’s urban garden is planted with vegetables, herbs, and some flowers specially chosen just for the bees. Not that they’re wanting for plants to pollinate, F & M’s bees, and there’s thousands of them, work Green Park and the gardens at Buckingham Palace not far away. No doubt the new container gardens will be highly popular with the swarm being so conveniently located outside their front doors. This is great for the future harvests slated to adorn plates in the store’s signature restaurants and tea rooms… at least the ones served beneath the gardens themselves.
The planning of this new installation began last year. Fortnum’s had big concerns over the weight of large planters on the roof, and the Connected Roots devised a scheme that is interesting, and worth keep track of it’s success. To keep the planter boxes as light as possible they’ve come up with a lasagna garden kind of situation with whole bales of organic hay filling the greater portion of each container. On top of which they’ve added a layer of manure under a layer of “soil”. Judging by the images available the soil looks to be peat or potting mix. It’s far too coarse to be topsoil.
Knowing just what a problem weed seeds are with hay I’m very curious to know how this growing mix works out. While hay is richer in nutrients than straw, in my minds’ eye I envision a maintenance nightmare. Many weeds aren’t kept from sprouting buried beneath only a few inches of soil, which is exactly what this image from Indie Farmer shows… perhaps 6″ of space between bale and container top. Next is the nitrogen in the hay not being available to the plants until it has mostly composted. I would anticipate that the hay would actually rob available nitrogen from the media and manure to assist itself in decomposing. Its amazing just what a food hog decomposing straw is, so hay can’t be that much different. However, they use both hay and peat moss in all their container gardens throughout London.
It’s not clear who will maintain the rooftop garden above Piccadilly, but the watering regimen is covered with a drip irrigation system installation. Connected Roots does a lot of container garden installations across London. They sell the pre-planted box gardens on their website, but those have water reservoirs. Perhaps the weight of so many reservoirs on this building was an issue. Certainly makes sense.
In addition to producing a lovely supply of fresh tomatoes, basil. lemon balm, mint, courgettes, French beans, and more for culinary uses downstairs, the garden will also provide F&M staff with a great spot to catch some fresh air on breaks while enjoying awesome views of the city.
For anyone living in London that wants to get started growing fresh food at home, but just doesn’t know where to begin – you can order one of Connected Roots’ urban allotment boxes ready to grow. They offer you lots of assistance in terms of detailed directions too.