At the beginning of lockdown, Rachel McKinney found herself tired of looking at the "basic, bland rooftop" located next to her kitchen. "Then when April came and the sun came out, I was like, 'I just want to go outside and enjoy the space,'" she explains.
McKinney, who lives in Limerick city with her husband, decided to ask her landlord if she could buy some plants for the rooftop. "I said, 'hey, do you mind if I put some potted plants up here to make it look a bit prettier?' and he was more than happy to let me do that," she says.
After getting the green light to flex her green thumb, she set about transforming her empty rooftop into a blooming garden. She went to shops like Dealz to buy items such as pots, plants and soil as well as outdoor furniture.
A few months later and the garden has become something of a sanctuary for McKinney. Not only does she enjoy her morning cup of coffee on the rooftop, but she does crafts outside and spends time with her husband there.
She has even started growing her own food in a bid to live more sustainably. "I've tried to plant onions," she notes. "I've got a small bush of blueberries that are just starting to ripen up so maybe we'll have enough for a couple of muffins."
McKinney, who is originally from the United States, says having a rooftop garden has allowed her to feel more connected to nature despite living in the middle of the city.
"I grew up in a suburban area where nature was right next to me," she says. "I had woods across the street from my parents' house and I used to play in them as a kid. Moving to a city was a bit more difficult for me because I was so used to constantly being able to go across the street if I wanted to be in nature.
"The garden has honestly been a great way to still feel like I'm not in the middle of the city," she says. "It's a little haven."
For apartment dwellers or those without access to a back garden, a rooftop garden is a valuable amenity. The benefits of rooftop gardens are myriad, says Dee Sewell, founder of Greenside Up, which helps promote the grow-your-own ethos and raise environmental awareness. Not only are they good for the environment and offsetting CO2 emissions, but they can have a positive impact on people's well-being and help enhance urban living.
"There is a wonderful term known as the 'biophilia effect' and it refers to how nature gives us feelings of positivity," she says.
"When you're out in a garden, it does connect you with nature. You're noticing the bees, you're noticing the sky and the clouds, you're noticing what the weather is doing. Without a garden or access to nature, you're cut off from that as well.
"That connection is good for our understanding of our nature and how we look at nature. It's good for our mental health."
Prior to lockdown, Susan Dillon rarely made use of her Dublin apartment building's rooftop garden. "I never went out there much because I was always going somewhere else," she says. "I'd go to the park or I'd go for a run."
During lockdown, however, she was nervous about heading to the park to exercise and decided to start using the rooftop garden. "Especially at the start of lockdown when everyone was a bit freaked out, me included, it just felt like a really nice, safe space," she says.
The garden is located on top of a parking garage and is "nicely landscaped with little lawns and shrubs and trees". The building management looks after its upkeep and maintenance. It's overlooked by three floors of the apartment buildings and there are office buildings nearby.
While many of her neighbours use it in the evenings for having food and drinks, Dillon says she has used it primarily during the day for exercise.
"When my gym closed and instructors were doing classes on Zoom, sometimes I did them in the apartment and sometimes I'd go outside," she says. "I lost any inhibitions over jumping around like an eejit to my phone. It was nice to have an outdoor space. I felt like it was all mine."
With both herself and her husband working from home, she has also found the rooftop garden to be a valuable space for working.
"If I'm on a call with my colleagues that's going on for ages, I'll go outside and take it," she says. "It's a nice way to get some fresh air in during the day. I was really missing that. Usually I would have always walked to work in the mornings and gone down to get the messages at lunchtime, so I was missing that outdoor time during a working day."
Another upside of the rooftop garden? It has allowed her to become better acquainted with some of her neighbours.
"Usually I bump into them in the corridor or in the foyer but for the neighbours that do use the garden, it's been nice to be able to chat to them properly when we're not ships passing in the night," she says.
Michael Rekab describes his rooftop garden as a little inner city oasis. "Everyone feels that way about it," he says. "It's not quiet - you can still hear the traffic - but you're in a kind of bubble."
The 30-year-old lives in an apartment in Dublin 1. The building contains five apartments and each tenant has access to the roof garden. "A lot of people when they walk in to the building for the first time… they say it feels very New York to be able to go up to this roof garden," he says.
The garden is sizeable and is home to plants, furniture, a barbecue and other bits and bobs sourced from around town. One of Rekab's neighbours is a landscaper and has taken it upon himself to look after the greenery. "He has it looking really cool," he says. "He takes care of the flowers, gets some wildflowers in there. He also grows lettuce and rocket and other vegetables in the garden."
When the weather is good, Rekab says he uses the rooftop garden all the time. "You might have your breakfast up there or your dinner and a glass of wine in the evening," he says. It's also "really fun for a party" and can fit up to 30 people.
He has a good relationship with the other tenants and says they are all accommodating of one another. If one person is planning on having guests over, they will typically let the other tenants know in advance as an act of courtesy.
"Because the building is small and you know everyone, there is no tension around people using it in ways that maybe you don't want them to use it," he says. "There's a good level of respect at the moment. I've lived here for five years in the same flat and there's never been a problem."
Rekab says he is particularly grateful to have had access to the garden in recent months.
"I was thinking over lockdown that if we didn't have that roof, it would have felt so much more restrictive," he says. "It's a little escape. A little reprieve."