Don Statham understands how an urban garden grows. “Even with a lack of space in the city, rooftop gardens are flourishing,” says the garden designer and president of Bloom Design. “Whether you’re looking for a peaceful getaway or a place to entertain, the key is planning, from soil and plants to irrigation and maintenance.”
His work, which oversees the streets of NYC and is featured in Europe, reflects the soul of an artist turned garden designer. Not surprisingly his home in upstate New York has four acres of gardens, showcasing why it is an integral part of his life.
“Rooftop gardens offer innovative ways to expand a space, especially if you have the room,” he says. “Yet creating that outdoor oasis is more complex than people think.”
Lower Manhattan Rooftop Terrace Garden
The owners of this Rooftop Terrace Garden in a pre-war building in lower Manhattan wanted to transform their 1,800 square foot outdoor space into a terrace with multiple functions. Separate spaces were designed to foster shade with a pergola they can sit under, as a place to entertain, an area for storing pillows and kids’ toys, and even a spot to raise vegetables.
Dramatic views of the Hudson River served as a constant backdrop for the space. Each “room” was differentiated by cutting gardens of low maintenance plants, which provide height, texture and color contrast.
A new generation of products and technologies for the garden makes it easy to create a flow between indoors out. “For example the right furniture is essential -- functional, all-weather individual seating areas which host big comfy sofas, armchairs and chaise lounges as well as practical stackable pieces.”
Don offers the following tips:
When you interview potential designers, let them do the talking. From construction budget to landscaping, give them a blank slate to demonstrate their “smarts” and creativity.
Be prepared for nine or 10 months of work. That’s because you are working with an engineer and a team of design professionals who will be creating and implementing a long-term landscape plan.
Find out about local ordinances and regulations to ensure you are not restricted from building.
Do the research to ensure your designer has the necessary expertise. At the top of your list -- your licensed pro should understand the structural capacity of the building beforehand and determine if the roof is stable enough to support the additional weight of a rooftop garden.
Check the climate of your balcony or rooftop. Note the direction of the wind and how much sun it gets during the day. Some balconies are very sheltered and receive no direct sunlight; others are fully exposed and take the direct sun all day.
Don’t introduce too many plants. Plant selection is essential when it comes to creating your space, with functions such as screening, shade, erosion and noise control. Yet for the garden to evolve, it needs a cohesive, streamlined look. A few well-selected low maintenance plant varieties have more appeal than a selection where there’s too much going on.
Color has a dramatic impact on your design. Choose plants that complement or contrast is the best approach. They should also be able flourish in your specific area and withstand the elements.
Other questions your contractor will need to answer involve maintenance, irrigation, and of course budget. All in all, be aware of your own style. Look at difference garden designs to get a feel what would work for you.