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If there is one thing that Brighton and Hove lacks, it’s space. Squeezed into small apartments or maisonettes, gardening and growing are out of the question.
However, one keen gardener has found a way around the tight city constraints, and Jenny Sweet’s rooftop garden is a thriving oasis of biodiversity as well as a productive source of food.
Jenny is a volunteering development officer for the RSPB, coordinating and supporting anyone who works alongside the 2,000 volunteers who help the charity in the South East.
Her love of gardening is personal, although she does admit she’s learnt a lot during her eight years with the wildlife charity.
She says: “I live on the fourth floor and there’s about five square metres of space if you climb out of my bedroom window. I started with small cottage garden-type plants, like fox-gloves and lupins, but now you can hardly get out there for plants.
I noticed the bees were coming and enjoying the flowers and it got me thinking about what else I could do to help them.”
Jenny began adding more plants to attract bees and insects, and now even sees the occasional butterfly flitting about four storeys up. After discovering that 90% of British bee species are solitary, producing neither honey or wax and living and nesting alone rather than in hives, she put up a bee box.
“I knew bees are declining and endangered, and this April I had three nesting, so I bought another box and now have lots laying eggs and plugging up holes. It’s been brilliant to watch and they obviously need the habitat because they’re using it.”
In return for the new home, the bees are helping out with Jenny’s other plant obsession – vegetables. The apids are busy making sure everything on the roof is well pollinated, and she has a steady harvest of cherry tomatoes, spring onions, courgettes, strawberries and blackberries. “I like cooking so wanted to grow herbs,”
she said. “And I discovered the flowers are good for bees and insects. It’s great to plant new ones and see which they prefer. They love thyme with the little flowers but lavender is their absolute favourite.”
There isn’t an official network of rooftop or balcony gardeners, and although Jenny can see her neighbours’ roofs from hers, from the ground it’s hard to see what botanical adventures are going on above the streets. Jenny says: “I really think if everyone did this it would make a difference, no matter how small, even if it’s just a window box or something. People have to realise our insects and wildlife are running out of habitat. The bees clearly needed the boxes I provided because they used it so quickly. Where would they have gone without it? Even if it’s just a window box, you can put some bee-friendly plants out and they will come and find it.”
* Find out more on bee-friendly gardening with the Homes For Wildlife pack from the RSPB.