Secret garden a rooftop floral haven

With the exception of those 29 resident gardeners who carefully tend the lush, colorful expanse of containers on the roof of Edenwald retirement community's four-story parking garage, and those who have visited, few know about the secret terrace garden.

The floral haven also features a landscaped lily pond with a resident fish darting beneath the water lily pads, a tall three-tiered water fountain and a wide stretch of artificial turf suitable for strolling, putting greens, bocci and croquet as well as a variety of benches and wicker chairs for resting and relaxing.

"It's so well-designed," said Jacqueline Gratz, a former president of the Lutherville Garden Club during a recent Maryland Federated Garden Clubs tour of the rooftop garden for members of its Gardens Study Council. "Everything is harmonious and peaceful and at the same time exciting because of the vivid color. It's a beautiful garden, just lovely."

"The city of Towson surrounds it but when you're there you have no idea what's going on on the ground. It's just beautiful skies and greenery and flowers and you're in another world," she said.

Conversely, most people are unaware the garden exists. It is invisible from the street, blocked from view by the buildings of Edenwald and surrounding trees.

Every year, each of the 26 adjoining garden boxes, as well as an additional three large round containers are "adopted" by an Edenwald resident gardener. Gardeners choose a color scheme, purchase selections at greenhouses Valley View Farms in Cockeysville or Radebaugh's in Towson and then plant their own garden.

The line of flower boxes, measuring 4 feet long, 12 inches wide and 15 inches deep, are hung from what serves as a metal trellis above the long 3-foot-high concrete wall that borders the terrace. Hidden is the irrigation piping that allows the plants to survive the unfettered heat of the sun.

Because the floor of the terrace is covered with 4 inches of crushed stone and cannot be penetrated below that, "everything has to be planted above the roof," said Charles Tuley, a retired nursery salesman and landscaping contractor, who is chairman of the flower box committee for the Edenwald Residents Association.

Since Edenwald's 436 residents are 62 years old and up, "The right height for the boxes is important," Tuley said, "so it doesn't require the gardener to bend down.

"If the boxes were on the floor, it would be easy for the residents to get down to them, but we'd have to have someone around all the time to help them get back up."

"One of the aims of the flower box committee is to remove all the objections that a retired gardener might have about coming back to gardening, he said. "We do the watering and fertilizing, and the little weeding that is required. We provide user-friendly soil without clay or rocks that requires no heavy digging."

The idea for the garden came about six or so years ago when Tuley was asked by the residents association to suggest ways to beautify the roof. Since then, as "the instigator" as resident gardener Elsie Tyrala fondly calls him, Tuley has been the researcher, the organizer, the coach, the adviser and the disseminator of information.

He's a familiar sight in the garden wearing his straw hat and green gardening apron and tending to plants, including a few he has planted on his own to show fellow resident gardeners new varieties. He credits the-five member flower box committee with the success of the garden.

Each year there is a friendly competition with the gardeners competing for first- and second-place prizes for "most colorful," "best designed" and "most unique" boxes.

The judges this year, were Carrie Engel and Ruth Engel, who work at Valley View Farms. The pair was particularly impressed by this year's entries.

"Ruth and I had a hard time choosing," said Carrie Engel. "There's not a more beautiful spot you can go to."

The rules of the contest are, there's a $75 spending limit, a suggested six-plant limit borne from experience, and a requirement that "spillers, thrillers and fillers" and at least one climber be included in the garden entry.

First prize is a $25 gift certificate; second prize is a set of custom made notepaper enhanced with a representation of the recipient's flower box on it.

Hugh Burgess, who won "most colorful" this year, went with "the red-orange-yellow spectrum with touches of white," and is thinking purple for next year "with a touch of van Gogh yellow."

Betsy Barclay's Star Spangled Banner theme with red, white and blue flowers with some yellow flowers for "the bombs bursting in air" won "most unique. This, despite the fact that she used the small blue Veronica perennials. "I knew as soon as I put them in that I should have gotten something else. But not having a car, I had to go with them."

Gardens have good days and bad days, "just like people," said Elsie Tyrala, who won "best design" even though she thought her garden was a jungle. "I was surprised.

"Now I'll make the kids come to see it."

Yvette Wilson, Helen Robb and Sally Ransom Knecht soon will be writing notes on their second-prize customized paper.

The benefit of the rooftop gardens goes beyond just pretty flowers.

"It's interesting, a focal point of interest in your daily life, something to pick at, fuss with and worry about," Burgess said.

Residents bring guests there and Burgess said he brings his wife in her wheelchair to the garden. "It's a nice place to sit, it's peaceful, restful, attractive," he said, adding that by mid-season "people begin chatting about prizes and a certain amount of competitive edginess manifests itself."

"It's a wonderful place for us oldies to get out at night and stroll," said Alice Kempner, who won a prize last year for her all-yellow color scheme. "Some people eat their lunch up here and occasionally we have parties. And those who can't leave their rooms can always look down on it.

"It's been a blessing for the entire community."

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