Jardin des Déracinés

Among many other things,
a roof garden can be…

By Sarah van Lamsweerde

a place to breathe

Plants can’t be rushed: you are forced to adjust to their rhythm. Calculate a lot of time for your plant (art) project. While you wait for nature’s magic, dream about the potential of your hanging garden: open lab, open air theatre, stargazing platform, meeting place… Perfect for future lockdowns or burnouts.

an (un)grateful place

Roof gardens are tough environments: there is a lot of exposure to wind and sun. Shade is essential for the gardeners, water for the plants. Install an automatic drip system for irrigation. It saves water in comparison to classic watering.

Buy your plants at a good eco place (Ecoflora Halle or a local neighbourhood project such as La Pousse qui Pousse). These sell mostly strong plants that got used to Belgian weather and have not been ‘forced’ with manure or pesticide and will rarely disappoint. Look for robust plants. This quest can be surprising: roses, for instance, are very strong, and they like movement. ♥

a legacy

You never start from zero. What plants are already there – brought by wind, birds and people? Instead of buying a lot of new plants, you can multiply those that obviously like the place already. Also, investigate who was there before you. What can you learn from them? This might bring you to the garden they themselves moved onto, where they implemented what they learned from the old.

a place for doubt

One can have doubts about where to plant plants. Each decision feels like a matter of life and death. Accept that The Perfect Place does not exist, and transplant, if you or the plant don’t seem happy. But don’t exaggerate the amount of moves: plants don’t like to travel that much.

a mirror

When plants don’t grow, it’s easy to take it personally. Try not to. Check the reality: sun, water, soil, how often you speak or sing to them. Like plants, humans adapt to the edges of their comfort zone. How much stress can we absorb? Can the plants absorb some of our stress? Try tests with two identical plant groups, and for instance, chant mantras to one, while complaining to the other. Which one will do better?

a place where thoughts grow from below

When observing and working with plants, your body is in a different position: low to the ground, on your knees, hands constantly touching different textures, head lower than the heart which pumps from the bending and digging. This physicality will first trigger all kinds of thoughts and memories locked in your body and eventually make place for new ideas. You might also zoom in on certain things you never had the opportunity to think about, such as: Do you need very deep and long roots to feel at home somewhere? Or, is it fine to have agile little roots that break off but grow back just as easily in a new place? What does this say about ourselves and the way we co-exist in a city? Who is a legume-type, with long slow roots that go all the way down? Or a cactus, with roots shooting out horizontally, prone to getting in touch with other radicals around? Are you a bush that throws its roots in several directions, or a grass that invests in the local base?

Thinking not just about the limited surface we live on, but about the depth of the soil beneath our feet opens up mental capacity for different modes of living and interacting, where we do not fit into tidy boxes but can inhabit a vast three-dimensional space with different shapes, directions and rhythms. Then we can do away with seemingly neutral botanical concepts – words like ‘invasive’ or ‘native’ that are in fact superficial and xenophobic – and come up with new names that can change depending on our collective or individual needs.

The root system architecture of desert plants exploits the topsoil water reservoir, the deep-soil groundwater, or both. The root system width and shoot sizes are not according to scale; date palm roots can reach deeper than 5m [4,7,17-19].