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A garden rooted on the rooftop Add to ...

When Mike Moody put out a couple of plant boxes on the roof of a low-rise apartment building in Toronto to see if they would flourish, he didn't think it would become a full-time hobby.

Now his rooftop garden has become so popular that at lunchtime, it lures neighbourhood workers to its busting begonia pots, dense shrubs and fresh floral scents.

"It just spread," said the 57-year-old, who tends to his precious plants from April to October at the building, which he also manages.

Rooftops in Canada's urban centres are undergoing a transformation. Buyers and developers are looking to turn their cement jungles into floral ones, with gardens and so-called green roofs.

Green roofs, which are attracting a growing following, aim to make buildings eco-friendly by covering the roof with meadow-like grass, wild flowers and sedum.

These roofs attract birds and bugs that would otherwise stay away from high-rise asphalt, and soak up rainwater, slowing its progress into storm sewers.

They also help control extreme temperatures that affect the conditions inside the building - and help residents get their nature fix.

"Everybody wants to enjoy the great outdoors," said John Broere of Box Design Build, a Toronto company that installs condo-terrace gardens. "A lot of people moving into condos are leaving houses where they had gardens."

The city of Toronto increased incentives this year for creating environmentally friendly roofs, offering developers $50 a square foot in grants, up from $10 in previous years. There are other dangling carrots as well.

"Builders know the city is very keen on it, and if they put one in their permit [is]often expedited," said Rick Buist, owner of Landsource Organix Ltd. of Milton, Ont.

Mr. Buist, who has developed green roofs across Canada, including the country's largest on top of the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, adds that "bringing a natural landscape to the urban environment [is a]huge trend."

For easterners, there are extra reasons to raise the rooftop horizon. Sustainability expert Dave Ramslie said there are "more benefits to having a green roof in Toronto's climate than in Vancouver's" because the excess rainfall may cause the roof's layering to wear away more quickly out West.

Even with the soggy situation in British Columbia, the rooftop garden and green roof trend has been slowly growing for years.

Since the seventies and eighties, Vancouver's urban centre has boasted rooftop gardens in residential co-ops.

More recently, new developments such as Southeast False Creek are furthering that movement.

The project will turn 80 acres of the city's remaining old industrial lots into a community complete with affordable housing, condos, a school, waterfront walkways and an Olympic village for 2010.

Part of the developers' conditions include having 50-per-cent green roofing. About half of those buildings will include gardening plots.

"Gardening is part of social sustainability," said Ian Smith, manager of development for the project. "When people have the ability to grow food it's healthier and cost-saving."

But Jim Ritchie, vice-president of sales and marketing at Tridel Condos in Toronto, said the greening of buildings is just smart marketing since buyers often ask whether it's included with a new condo.

Tridel's new condo community, Metrogate in Scarborough near Highway 401 and Kennedy Avenue, features roofs with large trees and grassy walks.

It has labelled itself, "the birth of a green community."

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