Basil Lee's Rooftop Corn

Basil Lee's Rooftop Corn

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Landis Carey
Aug 17, 2010

Architect and owner Basil Lee has lived in his Brooklyn condo for nearly two years. He made no changes to the interiors upon moving in—the building had just been gut renovated—but he has taken advantage of every inch of his rooftop space. Even though New York City's second largest farmers' market is just blocks away, this thoughtful designer transformed his perch into an urban escape where heirloom variety vegetables grow, herbs propagate, and his gas-powered Weber takes center state during summer dinners.

Visiting the rooftop on a recent afternoon, the sun shone and birds chirped as Lee prepared for a cook-off contest taking place the next day. Because the condominium sits high on a hill off Prospect Park West, the rooftop not only has views of lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, and New York Harbor, but also has abundant sunshine for cultivating a variety of flowers, herbs, and vegetables.

Strawberries, peppers, sugar snap peas, dill, and micro-lettuces thrive in an unlikely place—in dirt-filled gutters hung on the rooftop's southern, fenced wall behind Lee's Weber. Here the seed plants receive northern sun, a gentler place than if positioned in a souther-facing location.

This rooftop container garden grows heirloom corn and tomatoes, blueberries, parsley, mint, basil, rosemary, sage, and wild blueberries from Massachusetts, each placed according to its sunlight requirements. Vigorously climbing hops stem from Lee's second floor fire escape up to the rooftop, creating his very own urban hop yard. Here the vines receive northern light, making them prosper enough to be used in beer production come fall.

Morning glory vines soften the space's northern railing, setting the space for an intimate dinner. An Ikea dining set is off to the side of the space while lounge chairs are perfectly positioned for afternoon sun, still keeping the rooftop open enough to accommodate larger gatherings.

With the popularity of urban farming on the rise, may this savvy architect, who loves to cook with homegrown ingredients, next build his own rooftop farm? If so, I hope I'm invited to dinner.

(Images: Landis Carey)

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