Rooftops and Mooncakes

By Dr. Leaf

Taipei City is on the move to become one of Asia’s leading “green garden” cities, and during the last few years the city government has been working with citizens to promote the idea of neighborhood community and rooftop gardens.

This past April, Taipei City Government’s Parks and Street Lights Office (PSLO) offered free bags of organic, toxin-free compost (wood chips, leaves and twigs) on a first-come, first-serve basis to those individuals registered under the Taipei Farm City and the Green Rooftop Caretakers program (
Having signed up last year for the Green Rooftop Caretakers program, I was eager to give the government- sponsored bags of compost a try, especially since the price was right.


I am a lazy person by inclination.

This means that I need to expend extra energy to become more motivated and organized in order to live and interact smoothly with the “real world.” I won’t kid you, becoming a gentleman farmer was not something that was high on my life’s list of things to do.

In fact, the two main reasons I started this rooftop garden over a decade ago sprang from laziness and not wanting to go looking all over Taipei for fresh organic vegetables all the time (I’m a vegetarian). I also wanted to be as frugal as possible when purchasing these vegetables.


Since the cultivation of my first tomato plant, I’ve watched the gradual transformation that has taken place on the rooftop of my apartment building. It has gone from a barren, dirty concrete space, scattered with random antenna poles, broken glass and empty beer cans, to become a lush, vibrant green urban rooftop paradise. Additionally, it’s now a safe and relaxing community haven for my neighbors and their families. Under the watchful eyes of our apartment building’s many “aunties,” children are encouraged to go to the rooftop garden to play and learn first- hand from other neighbors about growing vegetables, herbs and flowers, and about the importance of working with nature, not against her.


There are a few basic reasons why this rooftop garden has become such a success. Chief among these is a safe and structurally sound roof, which can accommodate the extra weight of containers, planting beds and people, as well as a well-functioning irrigation and drainage system, rich soil blends of earth, mulch and compost, shade-giving trellises, containers to collect rainwater, and a variety of plants that will be able to survive the climate shifts that we experience in Taipei.
However, the most important reason for its continuing success is the sense of community and pride that has grown over time. The concept of having our own urban rooftop garden has proven to be an important catalyst for neighbors to create positive, upbeat networks and bonds of friendship with each other.


Our rooftop garden is now a popular gathering place, especially during the holidays. This year, the Mid-autumn Festival (zhongqiu jie), an important traditional holiday in Taiwan, falls on Friday, September 13th. This is a time for family and friends to get together, while the weather is still reasonably mild, under the full moon to have barbeques, socialize and (of course) eat traditional moon cakes.

According to a Chinese legend, the Mid-autumn Festival was first observed over 3,000 years ago by emperors who wanted to pay their respects to the full moon, while asking for a good harvest. This was an important ritual, since farmers followed the cycles of the moon for planting and harvesting their crops.

The exchange and the eating of moon cakes on the evening of the Mid-autumn Festival symbolizes the concept of “reunion” for family and friends. The more traditional moon cakes are round pastries filled with yellow salted duck egg yolks, symbolizing a golden moon. However, in Taiwan, moon cakes are also filled with sweet red bean, green tea, taro or lotus seed paste, which is usually wrapped around an egg yolk.

This year, our building’s social committee is creating a special Mid-autumn Festival evening of storytelling and guqin (Chinese zither) performances, which will take place in our rooftop garden under a full harvest moon.
And to think that all this began with the planting of a single tomato plant.


Dr. Leaf, now retired, loves puttering around his jungle-style rooftop garden.