The Green Roof at the Hugh Garner Housing Cooperative

After viewing the small private gardens of Cabbagetown, Garden Bloggers Fling participants were treated to a more elevated horticultural experience. Which is to say, we visited the green roof at the Hugh Garner Housing Cooperative.

 hugh garner

The Coop is a nine story building with 181 apartments. Not as charming as the surrounding red brick rowhouses, perhaps, but a lot more affordable.


Hugh Garner was a Canadian writer, something like Chicago’s Nelson Algren. Much of his work was about the lives of the urban poor in Cabbagetown in the days when it was a  slum.


The characters in Garner’s novels would no doubt be amazed by the view from the rooftop of the cooperative. It’s really the first thing that grabs your eye.


After I got over the view, I began to appreciate the park-like atmosphere of this garden. There are paths leading to seating areas, including one under a gazebo. Walls and tall shrubs create a sense of distinct areas. Remember, this was back in early June, so the garden was full of spring flowers.


I was surprised that there were so many large and thriving shrubs, like this Weigela. Weigela seem to like it in Toronto.


It was surprising in part because the garden is fairly new, being open to the coop members only since 2010.


Also, a green roof can be a challenging environment, windy and with intense sunshine. Yet the Ninebark above don’t seem to be complaining.




In addition to shrubs, perennial flowers and grasses grow in the wooden raised beds.


A nice clump of iris in bloom.


Hardy Geranium and Sedum.


There had been a water feature, but it was not working at the time of our visit. The frogs have not abandoned their posts, however.


I greatly admired the wooden planters on wheels, used mainly to grow herbs and vegetables. They could be moved to adjust light exposure as needed. These mini-gardens belonged to individual members of the coop. Signs warned against illicit poaching of fresh produce.


Though one coop gardener used his mobile planter to grow a Red Spruce. The tree was named Hughie, presumably after the Toronto novelist.

Apartment living does not appeal to me. I have been a house-dweller for the last 20 years or so, and I dearly love having my own plot of ground to garden as I wish. But if I did have to live in an apartment, a rooftop like this would certainly go a long ways to mollify my plant addiction.

40 Comments on “The Green Roof at the Hugh Garner Housing Cooperative

  1. I often wonder what it would cost to turn our gabled roof into a flat one with a roof garden. That sure would expand my garden quite a bit. I honestly don’t know why most buildings don’t have roof gardens. In fact, I’m so intrigued by them that I blogged about them a few years ago, on my other blog.

    I love the idea of raised boxes on wheels. Nice post, Jason – thanks for sharing!

    • There is a flat roof over our back porch. I’ve thought it could be the perfect spot for growing vegetables – nice and sunny! I just need to figure out the weight limits.

      • And how to harvest without risking falling off a ladder. 🙂 Maybe you could do some kind of suspension growing…

  2. My first ‘garden’ was a very long south-facing balcony with no shade – a dream most of the year, but tricky in summer when everything just frazzled! I think roof gardens should be more widespread, although weight may be a problem on some buildings. Love the idea of such urban projects. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Very interesting post….I agree roof gardens are a great idea, they give people a chance to enjoy plants as well as socialise a little with other people in a relaxed kind of way.
    I loved the views of city…great photos.

  4. How fascinating. If I lived in an apartment, I’d be highly delighted if there was a shared garden space like this.

  5. Interesting post about roof gardens, Jason. They do seem to be a good solution for extra green space. Did your guides address problems of weight and drainage, or was the focus just on landscaping and plants?

  6. I admire the people that live in places where you have to be very inventive to have anything growing. I cringe when I see those big city scapes. They don’t appeal to me. I am a country girl through and through.

    • I think moving to an apartment would be a hard adjustment for me at this point in my life. Though I know people who have done it in the name of downsizing, and seem happy. But they are not gardeners.

  7. That’s fantastic that city dwellers have access to green space. Roof gardens give many ecological services, as well. Cooling the building and the air around it, reducing heat island effect; cleaning the air; reducing and delaying runoff and retaining rain water, which will then evaporate back into the atmosphere.

  8. Fascinating. I see a lot of roof top gardens from a distance when I visit New York city. I’ve never seen one up close, until now. I read recently that beekeeping is now legal in Manhattan and rooftop gardens are sprouting up everywhere. It’s a great trend

  9. I love the idea of a community garden on the roof Jason and it reminds me of my mother who grew plants on top of our garage roof when we were children, that was after she had crammed plants into every possible bit of ground in the garden.

  10. The view was incredible…I was amazed at how happy the Ninebark seemed to be up there! Wish there were more cooperative apartments like this near us.

  11. I think it is wonderful. It feels really rooted and significant. I know that the elements can be harsh up there, but this is working and looks like it is shrugging them off. Lucky apartment dwellers!

  12. I have always been fascinated by roof gardens, it’s astonishing how much greenery you can get into a small space. I visited several while in NYC, they were all beautiful and of course, as you pointed out, there’s always the view and endless sky….I dd enjoy

  13. I really loved this garden because it was so unexpected. I just couldn’t believe how lush it was and that it contained so many shrubs. It was one of my favorites.

  14. Nice! I particularly like the ninebark and the weigela. It was also good to see Hughie the Roof Spruce. If I lived in an apartment with a rooftop garden like this, I would spend most of my time up there. I think the larger plants must create a microclimate that helps protect other plants from the wind and intense sun.

  15. Hello Jason, these roof-top gardens really are gems and I wish they would spread quickly. They still seem to be very rare but I can’t think of a better way to bring all the benefits of gardens and spaces to dense, crowded cities.

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