Need greenspiration? Follow in the footsteps of Ng Yuk Secondary School and create a roof garden

Lyndon Fan

Deep in the New Territories, students and staff in one secondary school have turned their roof into an environmentally friendly ecosystem of herbs, vegetables and lush greenery

Lyndon Fan |

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Biology teacher Chan Chai-yuen (left) and lab technician Vincent Ting guided students on the garden’s construction.

Imagine a garden with different types of plants, attracting birds, and vegetables growing healthily, fresh and edible. Then you notice the awkward-shaped pots, which are actually used computer shells, chairs and swimming pools. This is no fantasy – it is located on the rooftops of Ng Yuk Secondary School.

For almost 10 years, biology teacher Chan Chai-yuen, laboratory technician Ting Siu-ming, and the school’s students have raised three rooftop gardens, making the school ever greener.

It all started in 2006, when Chan saw a TV show about rooftop gardens in Japan. Interested, he asked his students about the possibility of building it on the school’s rooftops. Students were amazed by the idea, and started their long journey of building rooftop gardens.

The rooftop gardens use supplies that would have been wasted, such as computer shells, chairs and swimming pools.
Photo: Jonathan Wong/SCMP

The students and teachers used their own hands to create their garden from scratch: bringing buckets of soil to the roof, laying down each brick, and positioning old 25-metre banners. When asked why he didn’t just hire a company to do the work, Chan mentioned it was better to do their own work.

“We are living here, and we know where to put the plants, where the sun shines and where the wind blows. If you ask somebody else to take a look at the environment, in the long run, it may not be good,” he said. “You need to observe the rooftop from time to time, from year to year. And then you can know what’s best for the place.”

After a year of hard work, their first garden was completed, but they did not stop. Insisting students from all years should be involved, Chan continued to lead each year’s biology students to join the building work, improving and building more gardens. At present, there are three rooftop gardens: the original, the Xerophyte garden and the Ng Yuk Eco garden, which grows various herbs and fruits, and a green wall.

As well as rooftop gardens, Chan also raises environmental awareness at the school. Thanks to him, in addition to the ordinary recycling bins for paper, plastic bottles and aluminium cans, Ng Yuk also recycles ballpoint pens, CDs, ink cartridges, and cosmetic bottles by using them to decorate the gardens. They also collect old IT equipment, like monitors and computer castings, to make flower pots or use them as bricks when building.

The school also reduces waste by having a cabinet where students can put unwanted things, from books to old CDs, allowing others to take it. Every two years, the school holds a carnival about environmental awareness, with students holding booths and designing simple games using recycled materials.

The programme not only works to raise awareness of the environment, it also cool down rooms beneath the roof by three to five degrees Celsius.
Photo: Jonathan Wong/SCMP

In last year’s carnival, they even displayed horseshoe crabs bred under a programme by Ocean Park, which allowed students to see how important it is to conserve the environment.

Chan knows that it is hard to change people’s habits, and that it takes time. However, their hard work has paid off: students understand the principles of renewable energy, especially solar and wind energy with their installed solar panels and wind turbines; and they have a good grasp of knowledge of plants.

The rooftop gardens even cool down rooms beneath the roof by three to five degrees Celsius, reported Hong Kong Baptist University in 2011.

But perhaps most importantly, they offer more space for students to relax or hold activities, which is particularly useful in a congested city like Hong Kong.

Having run the project for almost 10 years now, Chan hopes that the project will be able to continue in the future.

“We have a belief,” Chan said, “We want to build something on our own, so we will have a more profound memory of these things.” There is little doubt that students and teachers will remember the joys of working on these gardens for many years to come.