Urban gardening

Summertime conjures up thoughts of the sun, the beach and other fun outdoor activities. With the soaring summer temperatures, escaping the concrete jungle for a more verdant backdrop, such as Sai Kung or Lamma, can be a popular excursion on weekends. However, more and more Hong Kongers are discovering a different way to escape and unwind, one that doesn’t require leaving the city to enjoy some sun and be surrounded by greenery.

Photo by John Fung
Photo by John Fung

Create Your Own Oasis in the City this Summer

One need only to look upwards to discover these compact urban oases that have begun to spring up across the Hong Kong skyline. Rooftop gardens are far from mainstream in Hong Kong, but have increased in popularity as residents began to turn common and previously unused outdoor spaces into a refuge from the crowded streets.

Some city dwellers turn to gardening as an outlet for the daily stress of long hours spent sitting in an office. But another growing motivator is the desire to know the source of our food and produce. The produce we purchase from shops may have traveled thousands of kilometres and was possibly sprayed with pesticides or other harmful chemicals, so to be able to grow and cultivate the food we put on our plates can be an appealing alternative.

However, the benefits of rooftop gardening extend beyond just providing an escape. According to Mathew Pryor, head of the Division of Landscape Architecture at the University of Hong Kong, a rooftop garden can bring people together and help build communities. Gardening is truly a universal activity which can be enjoyed by all, from the elderly to children.

And rooftop gardening is more accessible in Hong Kong than one might have imagined.

In his book, The Edible Roof – A guide to productive rooftop gardening, published by MCCM Creations, Mathew Pryor gives a step-by-step how to guide on starting a rooftop garden in the city, perfect for those ready to dive in.

Additionally our friends at Rooftop Republic host workshops at their many rooftop gardens across the city. For those interested in nurturing a green thumb, but who aren’t quite ready to invest the time or space.

Photo by John Fung
Photo by John Fung

Profile of a Weekend Farmer

For those keen on getting out of the city to decongest, meet Elaine Ng, a Slow Food Hong Kong volunteer and avid weekend farmer. Elaine ventures out to the New Territories to tend to her rented farm plot each weekend and shares useful tips for those wanting to get their hands dirty.

On weekdays, Elaine Ng is your average Hong Konger, balancing a busy career with a daily life firmly rooted in the city. Come Sunday, however, rain or shine, Elaine journeys out to the New Territories where she has rented a small plot of land since autumn 2014 and transforms herself from city dweller to country farmer for an afternoon each week.

Elaine has learned the art of horticulture from scratch and cultivated a repertoire of crops that is impressive for someone who still considers herself a novice –corn, lettuce, cabbage, beetroot, cucumbers, hairy gourd, radishes, tomatoes and carrots, among others.

What was your motivation to start weekend farming?

“It may sound incredible but it all traces back to a trip to Africa in summer 2014, when I was deeply touched while on safari by a feeling of liberation from stressful city life.  On return, I was keen to take up something that would reconnect me to nature. I stumbled on the idea of weekend farming on discovering that there are a number of farms in town that rent out plots to amateurs. There is actually a sizeable community of weekend farmers in Hong Kong.”

What has kept you going every weekend for nearly two years?

“I can’t believe that I have kept up my new hobby for this long – in fact, I am pretty passionate about farming at the moment. I think this is because of the multiple benefits that I have experienced. I get to eat fresh, organic vegetables that are safe and clean — no pesticides or chemical fertilizers are used on the farm. I’ve also learned a lot about the forms crops take in nature as opposed to how they look like in supermarkets. I used to be quite ignorant about which parts could be eaten. I also get to try new vegetables that I hadn’t previously eaten and explore various ways to cook them. Working with my hands has also proven to be very therapeutic, as well as the added benefit of being outdoors, exposed to fresh air and the sun. And there is a real joy in harvesting and sharing my crops with family and friends.”

Any tips for those looking to get their hands dirty?

“Just dive into it. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department publishes A Guide to Hong Kong Leisure Farms, (Chinese) providing useful information on farming experience activities and renting plot at leisure farms in town. Or start by planting an herb plant at home.”

slowfood-rooftop-elaine-fung

Shared by Slow Food Hong Kong

HK heartbeat