Wherever they may be, rooftop gardeners are a breed apart. With space at a premium, I have seen meadows growing on eaves and roses creeping skyward. In the most exposed spaces I have seen mature trees grow and have found orchards and orchards in protected city gardens.
Growing up in the sky is never easy, but you’ll be amazed at what can be accomplished with a little planning and a deep understanding of what you have to deal with. It’s more difficult than ground level gardening, but it’s more inspiring!
More than half of the new houses being built today are apartments, which is why rooftop gardens and terraces are becoming increasingly popular and vital for the green environment. If you think it’s too much effort and you need a financial motive, research tells us that a large roof space, small balcony or deck can add 8% to a home’s selling price and 25% to utility bills. a restaurant.
In this article I would like to show you where we started to create rooftop gardens because many people believe that it is quite a modern phenomenon.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were probably the most famous roof gardens of all time. One of the Seven Wonders of the World probably built during the rebuilding of Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar II to comfort his wife Amytis who missed the greenery of her homeland Media. We only have mention of the gardens in writings made 200 years after their destruction probably by Xerxes I around 482 BC. It is described as having raised stone terraces, faithfully reproducing the mountainous landscape with vegetation to create the mountainous environment of Media. Siculus (1st century AD Greek historian) describes them as 100 feet long by 100 feet wide and built in tiers to resemble a theater. The vaults carried the weight of the floors with the tallest at 70 feet. Large scale gardening but still with an eye on weight limits!
The next significant point in roof gardens was the Roman roof gardens of Pompeii. We don’t know much about them, but the eruption of Mount Versuvius in AD 79 almost perfectly preserved a building with what we would define as roof garden terraces. The Villa of the Mysteries, just outside Pompeii’s northwestern gate, has a U-shaped terrace along its northwestern and southern perimeters, where plants were planted directly into the ground. The terrace is supported by a colonnade on three sides. This became a tomb for those escaping the ash fall. Through careful excavation, including the pouring of plaster into the root spaces, the plants that were used have been identified.
There are other gardens from the Middle Ages such as those at Mont-Saint-Michel in France, the Medeci Garden at Careggi in Italy, and the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan razed to the ground by Cortés in 1521. One of the most remarkable roof gardens of the 17th and 20th centuries. 18 was the Kremlin Place in Moscow, razed in 1773 to make way for the Kremlin we know today. Gardens were a great luxury for the Russian nobility and in the 17th century an extensive two-tiered hanging garden was installed with a staggering 10 hectares on the upper level with two terraces descending almost to the edge of the Moscow River. Built again on vaults, surrounded by stone walls and with a 90 square meter pond fed by water raised from the river. The lower garden was built in 1681 with another pond. Plants were boxed with an emphasis on trees, shrubs, and vines with paintings that gave the illusion of visually expanding the space.
Since the early 20th century, one of the most successful movements and where the term rooftop garden was coined was for US theater rooftop gardens at places like the American Theater in New York City that seen here.
New York bandleader Rudpolph Aronson built the first one taking inspiration from Paris theaters and the high cost of land! The Casino Theater he built was the first to specifically include a roof stage for summer performances. The most imaginative garden theater was Oscar Hammerstein’s Olympia Music Hall, built in 1895 completely enclosed in glass with a constant stream of water pumped to the outer edge of the roof to cool visitors and mask noise from the street. Even then, they still used the rocky hillside look and included simulated lakes with live swans gliding across the surface. The introduction of air conditioning and changing tastes meant that these theaters closed in the 1920s and were demolished one by one.
Now, two gardens built before World War II have inspired rooftop garden designers over the years and continue to do so. These are Derry & Toms Garden in Kensington and The Rockefeller Garden in New York. Some would also say that San Francisco’s Union Square garden is influential and, in fact, has recently been redesigned to much acclaim.
Derry & Toms Roof Garden opened in 1938 as part of the famous department store. It hosted events with nobility and royalty until the store closed in 1978. Now part of the House of Fraser group, it has been restored and has a new lease on life. The original garden had more than 500 trees and shrubs. This has subsided as poor maintenance, age and drought have taken their toll and planting has been simplified, but it remains a great example of what can be grown. There are three main areas of Spanish Gardens, Tudor Gardens and English Woodlands. The garden has been changed a lot for modern requirements of lifts etc. and the once-prolific summer bedding replaced by grass.
Some of the Rockefeller Center buildings were designed by the same architect as Derry & Toms: Ralph Hancock. He was also a member of the RHS. The gardens are much simpler though with central grass beds, clipped privet hedges, fountains and ponds just 2 inches deep. These were completed just before Derry & Toms Gardens. The head of horticulture designed more elaborate Mediterranean gardens for the site. The most impressive thing is that 3,000 tons of topsoil were removed in the elevators!
From the early days of gardens designed for individuals and as public spaces, rooftop gardens are now springing up everywhere and an apartment without its own outdoor space is rare. But we owe our smart rooftop gardens in London to a long history of innovators leading the way in greening our cities.