A ‘Rooftop’ garden in Wellington

Jamie Reid talks about designing rood top gardens and terraces in Wellinton Jamie Reid

Roof gardens tend to have a good view, not always, and it’s generally something to do with being on top of a building.  Unfortunately with that comes one or two other considerations, especially if you’re in Wellington, like the wind and privacy, or lack of.  So designing a roof garden for a smart set of apartments overlooking Oriental Parade and the harbour offered all sorts of excitements and one or two original problems that needed addressing.

Of prime concern was creating a space that would allow for comfortable and aesthetically pleasing outdoor living.  Not so easy amongst all the existing roof clutter eg: skylights, air conditioning systems/vents, lift mechanisms etc, as most roofs tend to be rather utilitarian environments, designed not for living on but for living under.  The resultant spaces are therefore haphazardly filled with necessary but generally unsightly structures rather than areas that have been thought about with relaxation, entertaining or leisure in mind.



Drainage, dry and wet weight loading limits to the existing structure of the building, protection from wind for both people, plants and soil, cover from view from buildings behind/above, getting unwanted materials out of the building and new materials up to the roof, protection of the existing roof membranes to ensure continued water-proofing soundness during the build, compliance with WCC regulations re building height/interruption of site planes etc –just some of the issues that needed addressing.  Less troublesome but just as important was finding good-looking furniture sufficiently durable and strong to be able to remain out in all weathers without posing a danger to other buildings or people – other people’s furniture has been known to fly from one building to another during a good Wellington blow.

The Client’s brief was fairly relaxed specifying little other than the need for privacy from certain buildings overlooking the roof and to develop a low-maintenance garden that would offer an alternative sufficiently enticing to draw them upstairs away from their existing, very comfortable patio outside the living room.  Two design options were offered before a formal, symmetrically balanced garden fitted between the existing structures and tying the various disparate areas of the roof together was agreed upon.  The garden was to use the Clients four extg Pohutakawa trees in large pots as strong anchor points of the design.

The aim was to create an elegant, formal garden space whose boundary hedges of hardy, natives were to screen the perimeters of the building thus giving the impression of a predominantly green, vegetative space amid the hard, man-made constructions all around.  The garden was set out on the axis of the steps leading onto the roof with planting, pots, trees, lighting and even the re-aligned paving all positioned to create a balanced, symmetrical, ‘perspective-garden’ leading the eye towards a sculpture at the far end. The main garden boundaries are positioned within the confines of and hiding the existing roof structures such as skylights, air-vents etc and all the existing stainless steel roof lighting has been re-used with spots re-positioned to up-light the four Pohutakawas and the proposed sculpture.


A ‘dark and light’ colour scheme was designed around the dark bronze metalwork screens/railings protecting all vents and skylights, and the existing pots and pale paving slabs mirroring the fantastic bright, clean light of the city and its reflection off the water.  Light pots and shell mulch contrast with dark planting and a beautiful rich dark blue background for all the constructed levels of the garden.  Part of the planned attraction of the proposed garden was the use of artificial turf for establishing an ‘emerald jewel’ in a situation that would never normally support a healthy lawn.





The planting is very site-specific, with the roof suffering from a healthy number of high-wind, salt-laden spray days, roof loading limitations and generally shallow planting areas.  Corokia hedging around the perimeters in the deepest planters protect other elements of the garden.  Poa cita planted in swathes against the dark blue background of the corokia planters reflect the movement of the wind.  Pimelia prostrata provides a sea of underplanting around the dark phormium in their light pots and black mondo grass continues the light and dark theme set in its mulch of white shells/pebbles.




The whole creates a micro-climate within which people can sit and read, enjoy a meal, chat or just share a drink whilst soaking-up the fantastic harbour views.  Black Dedon furniture chosen primarily for its comfort and looks, is also strong and heavy enough not to fly away in Wellington’s breezy conditions and ties in beautifully with the colour scheme.


“I do have to tell you how thrilled we are with the garden. Every time I go up the steps I think WOW.  It is so beautiful up there, and when I think of what we had before (!), and that you could visualise how to make it so attractive, I am so pleased – thankyou.”








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