Case Study: A Modern, Meadow-Inspired City Roof Garden

It may be on the eighth floor, but this city roof terrace is buzzing with design and planting know-how

When it comes to gardening, every roof terrace has its issues, but this city roof garden is buzzing with design and planting know-how. Strong winds and extreme exposure can desiccate even the toughest plants while weight restrictions, safety regulations and getting materials to the top of a building all make vertiginous outdoor spaces among the most challenging sites. But with those challenges come major benefits; at one penthouse terrace, designed by Aralia's Alastair Henderson, in Hammersmith's Fulham Reach they include incredible views of the River Thames as it snakes west and a breathtaking vista of the south London skyline towards the greenery of Richmond Park.

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Despite neighbouring blocks, the city roof garden feels private thanks to the layered planting and carefully placed trees.

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This eighth floor city roof garden is also just that – a true garden that feels immersive and naturalistic. 'A lot of roof terraces can look contemporary but not really be about the plants themselves,' says Alistair, who took his cue from coastal and Mediterranean plants that can tolerate exposure, as well as owners who were leaving a much-loved garden at their family home across the river in Barnes. 'They were keen to have a space that could evolve over time, attract wildlife and that was abundant with colour, scent and atmosphere.'

The main planting included osmanthus hedging with its rich jasmine-scented flowers in mid-spring as well as several trees; amelanchier (with beautiful blossom in March), small olives and multi-stem heptacodium trees that flower in autumn and are beloved of bees. Dotted in between are ilex balls, pittosporum and Pinusmugo – a tough, slow-growing shrub.

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'The terrace is always buzzing with bees and there are often birds, too.'

But it's the drifts of perennials that bring rich colour; clumps of rusty red heleniums and soft pink sedums provide a contrast to purple salvias, lavender, verbena and hardy geraniums. there are bearded iris too – the least obvious contender for a windy site with their tall and extremely delicate flowers; here, they are staked for added support.

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Alastair's clever use of materials also works to create a soothing, natural mood. Bench seating and tables in iroko will age and fade over time, while larger planters are coated in a dark olive green that disappears into the planting.

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At night, the whole space is subtly lit – crucial, given that the glass facade of the 50ft-living room faces directly out to the terrace. Seating is defined with inconspicuous tape lighting, while shadows and silhouettes are created among the trees and shrubs by hiding lights within the planters. For the owners, the evenings have proven to be the most magical time of day, too; 'Even inside we feel part of the garden because it's in the direct line of vision. The sunsets are wonderful and we see how the sun swings around throughout the year. Every night is different.'

See the full layout below:

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Photography: Aralia

Lotte Brouwer

Lotte is the Digital Editor for Livingetc, and has been with the website since its launch. She has a background in online journalism and writing for SEO, with previous editor roles at Good Living, Good Housekeeping, Country & Townhouse, and BBC Good Food among others, as well as her own successful interiors blog. When she's not busy writing or tracking analytics, she's doing up houses, two of which have features in interior design magazines. She's just finished doing up her house in Wimbledon, and is eyeing up Bath for her next project.