English Bay rooftop garden

The winner of GardenWise's Gardening Challenge shares about gardening on a windy rooftop balcony overlooking English Bay.

Credit: Margaret Friesen

A rooftop garden in Vancouver’s English Bay gets creative with microclimates

We garden on a windy roof balcony on the 12th floor overlooking English Bay.

Garden microclimates

We have four different microclimates; everything grows in containers (currently 112); all trees, shrubs, grasses and perennials have to survive outside year round (no space inside). The biggest single challenge is the wind coming at us from all directions in all seasons. For the most part, plants that need staking are out of the question and vines are a challenge and a risk. Often the climbers are torn to shreds as soon as they start to take off.

We’ve created garden “rooms” (because we simply can’t cover every square inch of the cement): the SE sunny side, the SW and West English Bay garden, the NW “bamboo” garden and the NE shade garden.

Windy rooftop garden

We rely on grasses, bamboos, trees and bushes to survive the worst of the winds. The hebes and a camellia brighten things up in fall and winter. Colour in the spring/summer arrives with the seasons: in spring, rosemary, tulips, Rhododendron ‘Hotei’, California lilac; in summer, escallonia, roses, annuals (usually geraniums); in late summer, lobelia (L. cardinalis ‘Queen Victoria’), Clematis tangutica and grasses. Have we mastered our garden challenge? Not entirely, but by choosing a majority of plants that can withstand wind (some trial and error was involved), the bones and structure of the garden can be maintained. The rest is up to nature.

—Margaret Friesen, Vancouver

Margaret, thank you so much for sharing your gorgeous and creative balcony garden with us, and congratulations on winning our Gardening Challenge contest! – Ed.