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Rooftop gardens add pastoral touch to Beijing

By Liu Lu and Fu Shuangqi (Xinhua)

09:01, May 02, 2013

BEIJING, April 30 (Xinhua) -- About three km from the Forbidden City, the heart of China's capital, a small vegetable garden has just entered growing season.

Vegetable seedlings are starting to sprout on the roof of an old building in one of the city's ancient courtyard neighborhoods.

"I grow more than 20 kinds of fruits and vegetables in my rooftop garden," said Zhang Guichun, a 56-year-old Beijing native.

His garden's prime growing season will begin in June, when cucumber vines will creep over the frames he's built on the rooftop, giving him shade to rest in during the summer and ripe fruit in early fall.

Zhang's garden also features a small fish pond and several birdcages.

"When the weather becomes warmer, I'll put a couple of red carp in the pond and move my birds into the cages," Zhang said.

The idea of building the rooftop garden occurred to Zhang in 2007, when he heard that a real estate developer was planning to demolish the two-story building he was living in.

Although the developer's plans failed to fully materialize, part of the building's second floor did end up getting removed, leaving an empty and flat area full of rubble.

"I thought it was a waste of space and looked very ugly," Zhang said.

Zhang was a fan of playing online games at the time, particularly one game that allowed him to build his own "virtual garden." The game inspired him to create a garden to beautify the demolished rooftop.

"I thought, 'why not?' I could have a real vegetable garden on that deserted roof," he said.

It took Zhang a while to bring his garden to fruition, as he was not particularly experienced with real-life gardening. For the first two years, his plants bore little fruit.

"One year, I harvested watermelons the size of a ping-pong ball," Zhang said mockingly. "My neighbors laughed at me and tried to persuade me to give up my plan."

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