Sky high: A small garden space can have a powerful effect.

Do look up: Growing on the rooftops

Photo essay: On the roof of a central London restaurant, photographer Orlando Gili finds the serene clip-clip of garden shears and a micro supply chain bringing nature into the city and food closer to where it is consumed.

Photographer Orlando Gili finds a world of sustainable food production high above London’s streets, on the roof of the Coutts Bank restaurant and kitchen.

Early on a grey, autumnal weekday, London traffic relentlessly rumbles along Charing Cross Road. But a hundred feet above, oblivious to the capital’s commuters, is a thriving kitchen garden.

Wander past the sizzling pans of the Coutts Bank kitchen, in central London, and out through a side door, and you’ll find this serene space. The street noise is dialled down up here; the clip, clip of a gardener‘s shears becomes part of the soundscape.

Olga from Siberia works once a week as a grower for the roof garden initiative designed and maintained by Urban Organic. The company’s credo is to create productive spaces, where nothing was growing before. This has been achieved in spades.   

The rooftop garden is far from ornamental – it serves the kitchen. A grower sits down with the head chef at the start of the year to craft menus for the seasons ahead. From then on, the focus is on produce that is valuable to the restaurant. It’s a truly symbiotic relationship.

The residual heat from the building creates a microclimate that allows a rich array of produce to flourish, from Sichuan peppers to apples and mint, with the gardens in turn creating habitat corridors, mainly for bees. Chefs have the luxury of being able to pop their heads out and re-supply the kitchen at whim. Herbs, fruit and vegetables can take minutes to go from planter to plate.

The Coutts garden demonstrates the benefits that come with establishing natural habitats in dense urban environments. This inspirational and productive space ties into the growing move towards eating food closer to where it is consumed. The garden space is small, but it can have a powerful effect on those who visit, showing just how easy it can be to have a green habitat at home, no matter how small your parcel of soil.

With a blooming appreciation for all things green in our cities, it’s very possible that functional, productive rooftop gardens could go from novelty to normal.


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