Rooftop Gardens - Inspiration from New York Garden Designer, Amber Freda
3rd October 2012
With city living increasing in the UK, more and more people are becoming interested in turning a dull unused roof into a wonderful elevated garden space where owners can enjoy outdoor dining and relaxing, as well as growing plants and enjoying the fresh air and great views. So, who better to ask for a few roof top garden tips than a top garden designer from a city that for over a century has had a world famous skyline and some of the tallest buildings in the world. Yes, New York!
Amber Freda is a garden and interior designer who has designed roof top gardens across the city. Her gardens are places of calm and greenery where New Yorkers can relax high above the hustle and bustle on the streets below.
Amber Freda website HERE
Do you have a favourite plant?
Serpentine birch trees are my favorite plant of the moment. I love their sinuous form, weeping appearance, the white bark, and the vivid green canopy contrasted against the bark. They also have lovely yellow fall foliage.
What sort of plants are suitable for roof top gardens?
The types of plants that do well on top of a mountain generally do well on roof gardens. Roof gardens have conditions that are very similar to those on a mountain -- strong wind and sun, exposure to all the elements, and quick evaporation rates. So, if we look at the types of plants that are growing on hills and mountains, we see that bottom-heavy coniferous plants generally do best there. In other words, we want to avoid the extremely top-heavy, lollipop-shaped trees of the suburbs and tend to go for plants that have more of a triangular shape because they are less likely to blow over in a strong wind. We also want to avoid plants with lovely, large, tropical looking leaves like cannas and elephant ears, which will quickly get shredded up in the wind. Conifers have very small leaves because they don't get damaged by wind, sun, or snow.
Is there any particular issues that has to be taken into account when designing roof top gardens? If so what are they?
Water is always the number one issue. Where is the water source, and how will we connect to that to bring it out to the plants. Next is weight -- can the roof hold the weight of plants and planters? Most modern buildings have been structurally reinforced well enough to hold very large items like jacuzzis or big planters, but older buildings may require a survey by a structural engineer.
Images copyright: Amber Freda
Do you have any design tips for anyone considering turning some roof space into a roof garden?
You should know how many hours of sun or shade each area of the roof space gets in order to pick the appropriate plants for the space. Also get a sense of the amount of wind that area receives. Lastly, what is the function of the space? You may want to design furnishings and plantings that work well together. It's always good to draw things out on paper beforehand or hire a designer to create a really well designed and functional space.
Do you have a favourite roof garden and do you have a garden you have designed that you are most proud of?
The Highline in New York is probably my favorite roof garden / green roof space because it is enjoyed by so many people, and it's highly creative, functional, and inspiring. I love that they were able to give new life to an abandoned elevated train, rather than wasting time and resources tearing it down. It's a little piece of New York history, too, and it sort of captures the modern spirit of sustainability and recycling, which I think are very important practices to pass on to future generations.
What's the highest roof garden you have created?
19th Floor apartment building
What is the most popular style of roof top garden for New Yorkers, and what materials are popular?
Luxury residential roof gardens are the most popular style, usually with designated areas for dining, seating, cooking, entertaining, and for children to play.
Have you done a roof top garden with wildlife in mind, what sort of plants would you use in this type of roof garden?
I've had people ask me to design gardens that will attract butterflies and birds, so we use plants with very fragrant blooms or tubular-shaped flowers that make it easy for hummingbirds to put their bills into to draw out nectar.