Ku-ring-gai Living recently caught up with Wendy Siu-Chew Lee, who’s cultivated an impressive green space on her very own unit rooftop in St Ives. So passionate is she about teaching others about small space gardening that she launched ‘Up on the Rooftop’ – a small business providing traditional and sustainable gardening solutions for the inner city. We wanted to know how she got started, and more about the concept.
Tell us about how you started gardening on the rooftop.
In 2016 I moved from the large suburban quarter-acre home to an urban apartment; I de-cluttered, controlled my excesses, de-cluttered again, and found my happy place in creating an edible balcony garden. I’m on the penthouse floor of an apartment, affectionately called Up On the Rooftop. In my first year of urban ‘farming’ I produced over 70kg of organically grown vegetables, herbs and fruit. I work to close the nutrient cycle by composting food scraps, which enriches and promotes microbial life, thereby raising healthy vegetables. It’s a new way of life for a modern urban context, moving towards being as sustainable and regenerative as possible. I also have a certificate in permaculture design and adapt its framework to this unique setting.
I’ve become aware that my story resonates with many urbanites who are also searching for a better quality of life, and that this stretches across all demographics. I’m concerned about food security; challenging times of drought have beset farms that supply the cities. As increasing numbers of farmers are unable to grow their crops, urban areas may need to provide or at least supplement fresh food. But it can be done. During the Second World War most suburban homes grew some of their own food. In 1942 the government launched “Dig for Victory”, a publicity campaign urging households to grow some of their own vegetables as a contribution to the war effort. The press, industry and local community groups loved and promoted the idea, which was a huge success.
How did it morph from a hobby into a business?
I realised that many people were interested in living a similarly sustainable lifestyle, and wished that they could grow a garden also. The idea of demonstrating to others that growing edibles or houseplants was not difficult to do became a passion. My current business focuses on sustainable garden products. The story unfolds in my socials; I use these to share my learnings.
Do you see this taking off in Ku-ring-gai, and if so, which aspects?
I do. There are many families in the area who are concerned about food quality. Being time poor doesn’t mean you cannot grow food: many labour and resource-saving methods can be employed. Small spaces don’t mean there’s no room for greenery.
What has local reception been like thus far?
I’m relatively unknown so far! However, many locals are interested in sustainable and organic lifestyles, including conscious decisions about food consumed, and growing vegetables and fruit to ensure nutritional value. I’m keen to connect with some of these people.
Can you tell us a bit about your connection to the area?
I’ve lived in Ku-ring-gai for a good part of my adult life; in the last thirty years I’ve lived in three homes in St Ives. While our kids were school age, we lived in Wahroonga.
What do you love about life here?
St Ives has changed a lot over three decades. I appreciate the green spaces and access to the bush and the beaches.
What are your favourite local places and hidden gems?
Mischikas on Stanley Street is a quaint and homey café. I also really like the fire trail bushwalk from the bottom of Holt Avenue, Wahroonga through to Golden Jubilee, and there’s Acron Oval for off-leash dog runs. For restaurants, I love Sol du Soleil in Roseville, which serves delightful French food.