New York Style your Urban Rooftops

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Europe is famous for it, the Japanese are doing it, New Yorkers are the front runners of it and the Swiss just passed a bylaw stating all buildings must green their rooftops by 20%. If you are slowly buying into the green-your-rooftop idea, here’s the lowdown.

With an influx of high rise buildings, skyscraper apartments and public parks, many green thumbs must be itching for a space to potter at home. Creating a green space will not only be aesthetically pleasing to your urban environment, but it will improve the air quality by reducing CO2 emissions.  And of course there is the best benefit of the delicious fresh produce. The options are endless, no matter what space you have to transform…

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The Kitchn consulted an expert, Jeff Hens, to guide a group of New Yorkers through the steps of building a rooftop garden from scratch. With his own rooftop garden, he provides fresh food for his family on a daily basis. He highly suggests opting for a complete green roof, which means a carpeting of plants on a roof, which improves the energy performance of buildings and reduces storm water runoff.

Though many urban dwellers have flowerpots or container gardens on their roofs, these aren’t providing the energy savings that green roofs do.

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Feel like starting your own and don’t know where to start? Let the man with the plan, Jeff Hens, help you out here.

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Top Tips

Williams-Sonoma Taste, a cooking and entertaining blog, caught up with Amy Wilson, Principal Designer of Organic Gardener NYC, who shared her top tips for creating and maintaining a rooftop garden – how to create that perfect cosy space, what to plant and how to take care of it.

One of the things that’s particularly fresh about a rooftop garden is the privacy and the sense that you don’t have to go to the park to have a little outdoor space.

Group planters in corners. That way you’ll maximize the impact of the greenery. Also, group planters in odd numbers, like 3, 5, and 7 — this always works better visually.

Reach new heights. Vary the height somewhat in pots and planters. Some plants are taller than others, or you can put a taller planter next to a shorter planter. Think of the design like a city skyline.

Be mindful of drainage. Planters need good drainage; don’t extend the soil to the bottom. You can add stones in the bottom, but for a rooftop you’ll want something lighter – pack a few inches of peanuts, then a layer of filter fabric (a basic landscape fabric that you can find at a hardware store), then the soil. This makes for better drainage and less runoff.


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Take advantage of the sun. Rooftops are some of the sunniest spaces, so plant things like tomatoes and cucumbers that require full sun. Mint is perfect, and easily accessible for rooftop cocktails!

Make it homey. People start to think of their outdoor space as an extension of their home. Invest in outdoor furniture and add a space heater, or bring up a couple of heavy blankets so you can use it year round.

Be savvy. A landscaped roof can even increase the value of your home, so it’s a smart idea to put money into the space.



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It feels a little more personal – a bit of the outdoors that’s all your own.

Roof Damage

You may wonder what the effects will be on your roof, whether it will increase the risk of water leakage perhaps or even if it a sustainable idea for the long run. It’s certainly sustainable but make sure you construct it well. City Farmer ensures that planting beds will insulate and protect roofing systems. A few tips from them:

  • Make sure you have a waterproofing system designed for holding water.
  • Add a protective drainage layer between the soil and the membrane under planting beds.
  • Ensure that your roof drains have the proper covers.


Reading more about EAGLE STREET ROOFTOP FARM: GREENING THE SKYLINE in New York City. Don’t forget to download our must-have Fabric Library!

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ELLE Deco SAInspired by minimalistic design, nature and the writings of Oscar Wilde and F. Scott Fitzgerald, ELLE Deco editorial intern, Franke pursues the world through languages and photography. Apart from content creating, assisting in sourcing and styling, she has a love for traveling to new places with new faces.

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