Having a rooftop garden or terrace is a bonus in the city. That bit of secret or stolen space can make all the difference in the summer months. This year even more-so, having a safe private space to enjoy some fresh air or socially distanced entertaining is a real bonus. Rooftop gardens are more popular than ever!

Hiring a landscape designer can be costly but with thoughtful planning, you can work out your own plan. Some greenhouses even provide complimentary landscape design services if you purchase all the plants from them. Still there are a few things to think about before you begin. Whether you do it yourself or hire help you need to plan before you leap!

Here are our top 8 tips for making the most of your rooftop garden

outdoor dining under a pergola in a city setting

Whether your style is loose and organic or formal and structured, a bit of planning can help you make the most of this bonus real-estate! A Pro tip: If you are looking for furniture in a northern zone like ours in Toronto, plan and shop early. We are so eager to move to outdoor living, furniture flies out of the stores and they sell out fast. Now is the time to plan.

1. Divide and conquer

If you have a larger area, divide it into zones for eating, for relaxing, and for private tanning or lounging. This roof-top terrace we did for my brother’s condo had enough space for all three.

urban terrace with dining and lounging seating areas

2. Determine your garden’s style

This will help you select plants and suggest some organization for a rooftop garden. An Asian inspired garden will suggest different plantings than an English country garden or a desert garden. Like when designing interiors, a sense of what style of garden you want will head you in the right direction.

Japanese garden with water feature and small pagoda

3. Ground it with a rug

Treat it like a large open space room in your home and group functions around furniture clusters, and ground them with a rug. For the most part, I like to let the flowers and plantings be the star of the show and keep the decor items like rugs and cushioned seating as background. Here are a few outdoor rugs that would look good in any garden. You can click on any image to order the rugs we have picked.

4. Surround yourself for privacy

Peewee hydrangeas and classic boxwood surround this terrace below. After few years they will reach mature height but will be worth the wait! They will grow and fill in nicely to provide a shield from street noise and nosy onlookers.

evening light on urban terrace

5. Pick environment friendly plants

I am no horticulturist, truth told I don’t have much of a green thumb at all. One sign of a creepy crawly and I’m outta there. That said, a garden centre can help you to pick plants that are suitable to your environ. In this case, winds were a consideration so we picked plants that could withstand them and also benefit from a lot of full sun. This terrace faces south.

6. Choose environment suitable furnishings

That should go unsaid but outdoor textiles fabric and rugs have come a long way. They are fade resistant and can withstand moisture well. That said, we still recommend furniture covers and bringing the soft cushions in over winter, otherwise they can provide a comfy place for rodents to winter.

7. Vary the Heights.

evening light on urban rooftop terrace

Containers are your friends here. Vary the heights and group containers in threes for best effect. One or two oversized planters with trees will add height for drama.

These are a few of our favourites (click on any image to order):


How sweet are these to add interest to a vertical wall? Bring them in over winter to make them last.

hanging planters on wall

8. Plan for evening drama

Outdoor lights add ambience and charm. Don’t just design for daytime, your guest will want to linger – trust me on this!

urban terrace nighttime setting

Strings of lights would be pretty anywhere.

My standard disclaimer: Please note, some of these items may be offered through affiliate links which means I could get a small commission if you order. That will never influence what I find lovely and want to share with you. I always offer suggestions I would buy for my home or recommend to a client. Also, rest assured it won’t affect the price you would otherwise pay.