Rooftop Garden Planning: Build a Lush Garden, While Maintaining Skyline Views

Ambassador Rooftop Design Chicago

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Rooftop garden areas are becoming increasingly common in densely populated urban areas such as Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles and Miami. Their tranquility provides a much needed respite from the day to day chaos of the fast paced city and can be used as outdoor living space, an entertainment area or simply as green space for growing plants. While rooftop gardens offer many benefits to their owners there are some special considerations to take into account when designing them. With a little planning though it’s easy to create a lush rooftop garden design that won’t block the phenomenal skyline view.

Chicago Rooftop Garden Design and Landscaping: The Ambassador


Gardening offers a myriad of rewards for the owner in terms of health and stress reduction while helping to improve ambient air quality, but rooftop gardens also provide a few unique benefits.  Some of the greatest reasons for having a rooftop garden come in the form of climactic and environmental benefits.

Typically the rooftops of urban buildings are barren and the weather can affect the surface harshly; adding a garden to the roof helps to lessen this impact. Having a “softer” surface on the roof will also act like a natural insulator for the building; it will help to reduce heating costs in the winter by holding heat within the building when it’s cold and cooling costs in the summer months by deflecting the hot summer rays when temperatures climb.

Planting a garden space on the roof will help to reduce the storm water runoff considerably and in turn decrease negative effects seen from the water draining to the street below.

In some circumstances a rooftop garden may qualify for LEED credits. Between this and the reduced utility bills, it’s easy to see why people are putting in rooftop spaces!

Planning Considerations

When planning a rooftop garden there are a few things to bear in mind, especially if the skyline is to be kept open.

  • It’s important to decide if the space will be dedicated only for growing plants, or if it will function as an outdoor living space as well. Having a seating or hangout space within the garden is a great use of space and makes it multi-functional but is easier to include these wants in the initial design consultatation.
  • Think down the road. More often than not plants are bought when they are immature, and still have growing to do. Pay attention specifically to what the height of mature plants will be and work with specimens that tend to stay more compact or dwarf to keep from impeding the view.
  • Mix plant types to provide some variety in the design. Shrubs, ornamental grasses and flowering perennials can be interspersed among the ornamental annuals and vegetables to add to the design.
  • Build raised garden beds to add a small amount of vertical height within the design. Putting the beds on casters or spacers to keep the bottoms up off the roof will prevent roots from growing through and in turn damaging the building’s roof.
  • Start with a main focal piece in the planning process and design everything else around that. It can be something like a water feature, a stunning plant specimen, or even a gorgeous piece of pottery used as a container. Having a main focus will help to tie the entire design together.
  • After the main focal piece is decided upon, then it’s best to limit the entire design to no more than 3 colors. Choose one for the primary design element, with one or two others acting as accents. Too many colors in the design elements – furniture, containers, walls, flooring – can cause the space to look cluttered and busy. Neutral colors like beige, white, and grey make good accents and help draw out the beauty in the plants.
  • If the rooftop garden will function as a living space, or will be used for entertaining, it’s important to consider some lighting solutions so it can be enjoyed after dark. Ambient lighting will create an inviting, relaxing atmosphere after dusk and extend the time the space can be utilized. Be sure to make it a little brighter by the stairway or door for safety reasons.

With some simple planning and design considerations it’s easy to create a gorgeous, lush rooftop garden that can provide a tranquil, green space! 

Botanical Concepts Chicago is the leader in design and construction of beautiful Chicago rooftop gardens.

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