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Roof Garden Design – 5 Tips for Success

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Many new apartment buildings in London have balconies and terraces (read more here). And many period homes too have roof spaces. These can be flat roof terraces and balconies where you can design a cool and stylish garden. However small your roof garden, you can have access to sky, light, sun and fresh air in the middle of the city. You can create somewhere relaxing and private to relax. A roof garden can be a place to entertain or even stay fit.

But there are some things you need to think about before designing a roof garden or terrace in London. Most people will just dash out to their nearest homewares or DIY store. Or even a garden centre to buy pots and plants. They are then surprised when their plants die, sometimes within days. Does this sound like you?


Have you got time to use your roof garden?


First off, you need time to design, plant and look after a roof garden. And if you don’t have time, you need a reliable gardener to look after the plants. You need to make sure they have what they need to thrive. Plants are a commitment and to make sure you have your space looking good, they need your attention.


How are you going to use your Roof Garden?


It’s important to understand how you are going to use the space. It’s easy to forget your roof garden perched above you at the top of house. So you need to think of creating space that you are really going to use. I have had clients who asked me to design a roof garden on a terrace they told me they never use! They just wanted to know it was there if they ever walked up to the roof.

There are so many ways to make the best of your roof garden. I often take my yoga practice outside, even through the winter. If you’ll sit and have breakfast and coffee up on the roof, think about how easy it is to access. Is there anything inside you need to change? Will it get too bright and hot in summer? Do you need to install some shade.


If you’re going to use your roof garden mostly at night, for socialising or entertaining, have you thought about lighting and keeping some part of it rainproof. Do you need dining table and chairs or loungers or is the space more compact so you need built in seating? The list goes on.


How about the weather?


Weather can have a huge impact on the plants you use. Lots of plants just aren’t suitable for roofs or balconies. Wind is more damaging than sunshine. Not just because of the damage it causes. Wind can dry out the leaves of plants more quickly than the roots of the plants can find water. So you really need to know which plants will survive and thrive in windy, exposed conditions. And if your roof garden space is protected, you need to choose plants that love the sun. It can get very hot in high summer in London.

Do you need to install a watering system?


Even the most enthusiastic gardeners don’t always have time or forget to water their plants. If you have access to a water supply, I always recommend installing a watering system in your roof garden. This means the watering of your plants is automatically timed to happen at the best time for plants (the middle of the night). This is also economical and better for the environment. But the systems are not infallible and you still need to keep an eye on them to make sure that they are working. Watering systems also need to be switched off in winter to prevent freezing in the pipes or during periods of heavy rain.


If you don’t have access to a water supply, then you can install reservoir water tanks into the planters. The roots of the plants search out the water source and the moisture is absorbed through the planting medium. These tanks come in different sizes and using them means that you can fill them every few weeks, ensuring that the plants don’t run out of water.


Now you can think about the plants!


You need to choose what plants are going to give the best performance in your roof garden. This depends on lots of things, not just on what you like. You need to think about all of the elements I have described. What kind of effect do you want? How much attention will you give the plants? Will the plants you want in your roof garden thrive in the weather conditions. Once you know this, you can narrow the range of plants down to those that will work in your space.


There is no point trying to grow plants that like sunny borders with only the gentlest of breezes on roof garden that is blasted by the wind. Trying to grow plants like lavender where there is no sun will be a disappointing exercise. Think about the plants that like windswept prairies, mountains or coastal cliffs. Then you’ll be on the path to planting up a successful, stylish and sustainable roof garden on your terrace or balcony.


If you’d like some help creating a roof garden or with redesigning planters and the planting of your roof garden or to install a watering system, feel free to get in touch here

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