Today, I’m taking you to urban Philadelphia, to see my youngest son’s back deck and rooftop garden. D purchased the 1920 rowhouse nearly two years ago, during the pandemic.
Prior to the move, he rented a third-floor, walkup in an 1800’s building that had been converted from a carriage house and stable to condos. During the pandemic, his one-bedroom unit did double duty as an office. And, there was no balcony for fresh air or to grow plants. Feeling confined to the apartment, he went on a search for a home with more living areas, room for a dedicated office, big kitchen, outdoor space, and the ability to have a dog.
However, D also loved the walkable and vibrant Fairmont District neighborhood. So when he finally spotted the listing for a 100-year-old rowhouse — just blocks from the carriage house — he jumped at the opportunity to be a homeowner!
Over the next year, D created a little backyard oasis and rooftop deck on the third floor of the rowhouse. In both areas, he enjoys spending time outdoors, playing with the dog, tending plants, barbequing, and entertaining family and friends. An accomplished cook, D also created an urban rooftop garden where he grows herbs and vegetables to incorporate into fresh, healthy meals.
Just like his big brother, then living a few hours away on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Today is part two of their story that began in, Bountiful NYC Urban Garden: Up on the Roof.
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Urban Neighborhood Setting
Six weeks after we helped D move into the rowhouse, he brought home Bentley, a lab mix rescue. It was a frigid Halloween morning, when D and a friend waited to pickup the then nine-week puppy. Bentley arrived in a specially outfitted van that had traveled from S.C. with his ten other litter mates.
After climbing the “Rocky Steps” (named for a scene in the movie) in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Bentley is doing a little people watching. It’s one of the walking routes he and D make around the historical neighborhood. When we visit, Mr. Buzz takes Bentley with him on runs along riverfront Fairmont Park, past the famous waterworks and boathouse row.
On our most recent trip (over the July 4th holiday),hubby, D and I walked to an area of the park behind the Art Museum. There we relaxed in a beer garden that had been set up for the summer and fall seasons. All kinds of seating, picnic tables and even hammocks dotted the riverfront.
After the six-hour drive from Pittsburgh, it felt good to stretch our legs before heading to a great Mexican restaurant on nearby Fairmont Avenue.
Row of Rowhouses
Less than a mile away, D’s rowhouse sits among others of mostly the same era. On the right is a new four-story unit, built in the same architectural style.
After being completely gutted by a developer about ten years ago, D became the remodeled rowhouse’s second owner. At some point, however, D will have to have the brick front repointing and sealed.
Let’s go inside and then head up to the rear rooftop garden.
Up to the Third Floor
When you enter D’s rowhouse a large kitchen and island are to the left. Directly in front is an open staircase, set against an exposed brick wall. All three floors of living space have wood floors.
Underneath are steps to the finished basement, which provides great storage space. Later, we’ll come back down to the main floor and out to the backyard patio and deck.
Now, we’re on the second floor landing. Behind us are double doors leading to the large back bedroom. A utility closet is directly to the right. Three steps lead up to the full bath and laundry, and the master bedroom further down the hallway.
Room & Roof with Skyline View
Around the corner is another full set of stairs leading to the third floor. The front two-thirds of the large room is furnished with a sectional couch, TV, and entertainment center. Bentley likes to sit in front of the wide bank of windows that face the street and Philadelphia skyline.
From the right angle, you can even see the statue of William Penn standing on top of City Hall. Way back when I lived in Philly’s suburbs, no building in the city was allowed to be taller than William Penn’s hat. Today, Philadelphia’s skyline is defined by numerous skyscrapers that make D’s view dramatic at night.
The opposite end of the room is setup as D’s home office. It’s adjacent to sliding glass doors leading out to the rooftop deck.
This is what the rooftop area looked like when D moved in. Gray plank decking cover the roof over the second floor bedroom. To the right, gray fencing separates D’s deck from his neighbor’s roof.
Vegetable & Herb Planters
Since moving into the rowhouse in early fall, D spent the winter planning a vegetable and herb rooftop garden. Some plants were started from seed in the basement.
Come spring, vegetables were planted in an eight-foot long planter (Amazon, see below). Initially, two identical tomato plants were placed on either side.
Initially, it took quite a lot of effort — and heavy lifting — to carry the planter components, pots, window boxes. plants, and bags of dirt up two sets of steep stairs. No freight elevator like his brother used to transport everything to his penthouse NYC Urban Garden: Up on the Roof.
Quite the transformation isn’t it?
Circled in yellow is a long, flexible hose he extended from the ground floor and looped around the railing. Another hose is used for the back patio and deck. He switches which one is attached to the faucet, as needed. However, that does require climbing up and down the stairs to turn the water on and off.
While visiting over Memorial Day, mom and I had to move the tomatoes into much larger planters with five -foot stakes for support. Throughout the season, D made quite a few salads and dishes with that bumper crop of tomatoes!
Window Box Herbs
Herbs are mostly planted in window boxes and planters on the floor of the rooftop garden. D does a lot of cooking and likes to add herbs into dishes.
Because he frequently makes fresh pesto sauce for pasta dishes, a third window box is dedicated to only basil plants.
I purchased him special snipers and a fresh keeper to harvest and refrigerate herbs.
Unfortunately, the rooftop garden is two flights of stairs from the kitchen!
To save on climbing up and down the steps, D combines watering, fertilizing and harvesting into one trip — when he can. But during exceptionally hot, dry weather, he waters the plants on the rooftop garden twice a day.
As I had done for his older brother, I brought wine corks, wooden skewers, and a permanent marker to create plant markers.
You might also want to check out the Wine Cork Wreath DIY Tutorial I made D as a housewarming gift.
In the background you can see some of D’s neighbors’ rooftop gardens, decks, porches, and even a metal, circular staircase. Several also have hot tubs!
Urban Garden Harvest
Throughout the summer, D harvests a variety of fresh veggies and herbs that he enjoys incorporating into meals. Sometimes, he shares the bounty with appreciative neighbors and friends.
Last summer, zucchini and eggplant grew like crazy — trailing over the edge of the planter and across the deck floor. But, they crowded out the cucumbers. It was one of the lessons D learned from his first year experience as an urban farmer.
Other vegetables that flourish in the rooftop garden include cabbage, red bell peppers, and onions.
Jalapeno, Anaheim, and Habanero chili peppers also grow in abundance. In addition to incorporating into various dishes, D frequently grills peppers and other veggies.
This summer, D added furnishings to the upstairs deck, in the area outside the glass doors and against the wall. Some of them came from his brother, who moved from NYC to Hoboken, NJ last October. That included a “floating” lounge chair, which D especially enjoys relaxing in at night with Bentley at his side. There’s also now a nine-foot umbrella providing some shade from the heat and glare.
First Floor Deck & Patio
Down below on the ground floor is a back patio and deck. Here’s the view from the rooftop garden.
This is actually last summer’s setup, before D added a matching nine-foot umbrella for shade on lower deck. There, the umbrella provides a bit of privacy. At night, the umbrellas’ have optional, underside LED lighting. Even better, is the ambiance from solar-powered stake lights in large planters, and strings of Edison bulbs along the fence.
On the slate patio D uses a smoker grill year-round. For the last two years, we’ve enjoyed family and friend summer barbeques at the rowhouse. And last Thanksgiving, he treated us to a splayed smoked turkey! Learn how Using a Smoker Grill Enhances BBQ Meals & More.
Now, lets head downstairs!
At the bottom of the steps, we pass the kitchen’s large center island and into the long, narrow living room. On the way is an open shelving unit hubby and I gave D last Christmas. We like how the exposed brick wall is visible behind the open shelving. Across the way is the powder room.
I see my Scottie dog, Whiskey, has sneaked into the scene! He loves visiting Philadelphia; especially playing with Bentley and going for walks around the neighborhood.
At the far end of the room, sliding glass doors lead to a small slate patio and elevated deck. The picture below was taken looking back at the rowhouse, on the day after D moved in. Looking up, you can see the third floor rooftop deck.
Providing some degree of privacy, a tall gray fence surrounds the back of the property.
On the right is a narrow (dead-end) alley between D’s rowhouse and his neighbor’s. It provides space for storing trash cans and has an outdoor faucet. Most importantly, side windows provide natural lighting for both bathrooms, the living area and back bedroom. On the opposite side, the two rowhouses share a common wall.
After helping D move, hubby and I stayed another week. While D was working, Mr. Buzz did a lot of interior painting, while I unpacked and organized the kitchen, baths, and closets.
That final September weekend, D and I headed to a large suburban nursery, Lowes and Home Depot for gardening supplies. D was anxious to get some permanent “landscaping” started.
The previous owner moved to California and left behind this tall planter, which we filled with a variegated, leafy plant.
We also purchased two large gray planters for small trees that could survive Philadelphia’s winters. Beautiful white flowers cover the weeping tree’s branches in the spring.
In the opposite corner is a Japanese evergreen. We also brought home two over-the-rail gray planters for perennial vines. Plus, D’s been able to over-winter two beautiful hydrangeas, by moving the pots against the house in the late fall.
Last summer, D began hanging ferns and flowering annuals to add more greenery and color to the back deck.
Hope you’ve enjoyed the little tour of my son’s Philadelphia rowhouse, rooftop garden and back deck. What’s going on in your neck of the woods?
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