Rooftop gardens; a blessing and a burden. As anyone with a rooftop garden knows, they’re often awkward, cramped and exposed – either to neighbours or the weather. However, a garden up on the roof is always better than no garden at all.
In fact, these spaces have so many opportunities that a hum-drum ground-level garden can’t provide. Capitalising on your rooftop garden’s excellent privacy, spectacular views, or unsheltered rain and sun are all pathways to transforming a tricky space into something exceptional.
So, whether you’re looking for a secluded spot away from the world, somewhere to grow your own urban jungle, or an amazing party spot to hang out with friends, here are 15 of the best rooftop garden ideas.
Roof Garden Ideas for Escaping the City
I love living in a city and having everything I could need right on my doorstep. At the same time, I really appreciate having a quiet little slice of the outdoors that’s just mine. A rooftop garden is the perfect place to escape from the chaos and noise at street-level, and enjoy a little tranquility.
1. Have a clear layout
Defining areas of your rooftop garden is essential for making the most of it, just like we talked about in our post for small garden ideas.
Even the smallest space can be multi-purpose, just take some time to plan what you need. Think about shelving for plants, fold-away tables and modular furniture that can be used as tables, seats and loungers.
By keeping laundry, gardening, seating and sunbathing all slightly separate, it prevents your garden getting cluttered. This busy rooftop garden in New York has the right idea!
2. Always have a storage strategy
It’s exceptionally difficult to chill out in a cluttered space. When kitting out a relaxing roof terrace, always think about where you’re going to keep bits and pieces like cushions, gardening equipment, and leisure accessories.
Bench storage is one option, or you could build a compact shed, like the one on this roof terrace in West Hampstead.
3. Frame your views
Another little escapism trick: block out unattractive views and highlight more attractive ones. Try planting evergreens that are tall enough to obscure other buildings, neighbours or ugly brickwork from wherever you usually sit to chill out. Use softer edges (like flowers or ornamental grasses) around more attractive sights, like landmarks or panoramic views.
4. Use every inch – and be creative!
Even the smallest space is precious when it’s needed to escape hectic life. If your rooftop garden is little more than a top-floor balcony, squeeze cosiness into every inch. DIY or made-to-measure furniture is the best solution here, and you should play around with layouts until you find what works.
5. Cosy rooftop lighting
Make the most of your rooftop garden throughout the year with outdoor lighting that’s both practical and ambient.
In summer, celebrate your exceptional sunset views with mood lights that highlight your favourite features – festoons over your seating area, or lanterns on table tops.
As the nights draw in, a fixed outdoor light will provide the brightness you need to carry on chilling.
Rooftop Garden Ideas for Gardeners
One downside of living in a built-up area is that gardening spaces are few and far between. You might not feel like a roof terrace gives you enough space to exercise your green thumb, but you might be surprised at what you can grow on a rooftop garden with a little creativity.
6. Use an abundance of pots to make up for a lack of soil
Just choose lightweight plastic containers rather than heavy earthenware. The beauty of pots is that it’s fairly easy to shift them around each season to ensure each plant is getting the right amount of light, warmth and shade.
7. Try a practical kitchen garden
Fruit, vegetable and herb plants adore the sunshine. As long as they’re got shelter from the wind, a rooftop garden is the perfect place to grow all kinds of crops to supplement your cooking and live more sustainably.
Check out our post on kitchen garden ideas for the best veggies to grow in pots, even as a beginner.
8. Find plants that grow upwards…
Vertical gardens are the ideal way to have plenty of plants and maintain a decent amount of floor space.
Attach trellises or frames directly to the wall, and look for vertical stands that let you stack containers upwards.
If you like a rustic, shabby chic look, you can build gorgeous vertical planters from pallets (and see more bohemian garden ideas here).
9. …and plants that trail down
Hanging baskets add another dimension to your roof terrace garden. Hang them from fences, walls and pergolas (but make sure they’re sheltered during high winds).
10. Provide shelter for your pots
Plants like shade and shelter as much as people. Even if you don’t intend to use your roof for sunbathing, it’s worth investing in some inexpensive protection for your leafy friends.
Simple screens are usually the cheapest option, made from mesh or bamboo. It can feel counterintuitive, but screens with a slightly open weave are better at dissipating rough winds than completely solid screens.
Rooftop Garden Ideas for Party People
Entertaining people can be tricky when you’re in a cosy apartment – so being able to use a roof terrace as an extra space can make all the difference. If you’re not bothered about growing things or using the space on your own, make sure your rooftop garden is working as hard as possible to be party-friendly.
11. Treat yourself to luxe flooring
Statement flooring is the fastest way to make an impact when it comes to rooftop garden decor.
Choose a quality artificial grass (with good UV protection to prevent fading), or find classy wood panels to create that indoor/outdoor vibe.
12. Paint the walls
Whether your rooftop garden has walls, fences or railings, make sure they’re getting some love too.
White will always be classic (and can visually open up small roof terraces). You can get away with much braver colours than you would indoors, without feeling closed in – thanks to a lack of roof! Bold colours will actually work to make sparse terraces more cosy.
13. Take your terrace to the next level (literally)
Thought you were already as high as you could go? Add low levels of decking to your rooftop garden to break up a monotonous space.
This roof terrace in Toronto looks luxurious, but really uses quite simple ideas to break up the planters and steps to the hot tub (which could just as easily be a seating area).
14. Choose slimline furniture
Planning to cram as many people as possible on your roof terrace?
As someone that throws several balcony-essential events throughout the year, I can only emphasise how important it is to pick the right furniture.
I love the roof garden furniture set in the next photo (although don’t ask me how to keep it clean) – I think it’s the HAVSTEN set from IKEA. The big, squashy cushions are super inviting, but slender frames mean that the seats use as little floor space as possible.
15. Take cover with a pergola, parasol or awning.
A pergola adds visual interest to your rooftop garden, giving your plants something to climb up and providing shade and cover from the elements.
A pergola with close panels will do a little bit to keep the wind out and the heat in (especially with an actual fire pit or heater), so you can host guests year-round.
Not a fan of pergolas? Parasols and awnings are other great options for rooftop shade, although they’re more susceptible to being caught by the wind (so make sure they’re super secure or folded away).
Undertake a roof garden design project
These rooftop garden ideas can give you a good starting point when it comes to creating an outdoor space that works harder for you. What kind of gardener are you, and which idea are you most excited to try?