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Raising the Roof


Paving Perfection 1.1Raising the Roof 1.2Raising the Roof 1.3Raising the Roof 1.4Fusing contemporary and Oriental design elements,this apartment garden is a modern marvel

Words: Karen Booth
Photos: Patrick Redmond

Lovers of things Oriental and contemporary, the owners of this rooftop garden, Annette and Mark Clover, thoroughly enjoyed the process of designing their own rooftop retreat. While they had no difficulty making all the design decisions, they knew they needed to turn over the actual construction to a team skilled in building rooftop gardens.

The owners chose Ferlacon, who built the new garden in association with PJ Designers Homes. Their brief to Ferlacon was to take a small decking area and maximise both the space and the views (of the Melbourne skyline, Albert Park Lake and the bay), in the process transforming it into a simple and stylish urban rooftop garden. Using sustainable materials was a must, as was creating a comfortable, uncluttered, low-maintenance space for year-round relaxing and entertaining.

Composite decking (made of 90 per cent recycled materials) was chosen for the new flooring. The decking looks like real timber but requires no staining or painting, nor will it warp or splinter.

For seating, there is a table setting, garden furniture and built-in benches next to the water feature. The cracked marble water wall and pond, which is home to several goldfish and a water plant, are the focal points of the design, the gentle trickle of water an antidote to the noise of the bustling city and traffic below.

Being able to cook a variety of meals was essential, so a “big statement” barbecue was selected that will allow the owners to spit roast and cook delicious vegetarian and seafood dishes. To add to the outdoor entertaining experience, the owners extended the Bose sound system already installed in their apartment. They did this by fitting marine speakers into the new garden wall.

There is also a strong emphasis on ambient lighting to create a welcoming rooftop space in the evening, while blue lighting in the pond illuminates the Buddha at night, giving it a greater presence.

To add height and a contemporary accent, there is a striking steel arbour, which in time will be covered in climbing plants.

Building a rooftop garden brings with it a slew of challenges. First, the tiny existing deck, balustrade and other elements had to be demolished and removed. Then the new materials had to be transported to the 10th floor apartment. For the larger materials, a crane was used. A special permit from the local council was required and, although this was an expensive exercise, it was well worth it as it took just three hours to set up the crane and deliver all the larger materials such as the new timber and steel arbour. All other materials and equipment had to be painstakingly carried up and down the stairs of our apartment.

The placement of the Buddha was another challenge. Although it weighs approximately 75kg, the owners had brought the statue to Australian from their old garden in the United Kingdom, so for sentimental reasons they wanted it to have pride of place in their high-rise retreat. Because of its weight, the statue had to be supported by brackets installed inside the pond. Both the pond and the wall feature behind it were constructed onsite and made waterproof.

Weight is always a concern with rooftop gardens, which is why Ferlacon worked in close co-operation with a structural engineer. Of equal importance is creating a completely leak-free environment — and a safe environment. To achieve the latter, Ferlacon wrapped the garden in a 1.5m-high shatterproof, laminated glass balustrade. To ensure uninterrupted views, there is a top handrail but no bottom rail.

The owners used hardy, low-maintenance plants that harmonise with the Oriental theme and can withstand the harsh winds coming off the bay. Plants chosen include Oriental Buddha bamboo, an excellent screening plant; native sedge for the pond; Japanese maples with striking red bark and branches; purple-flowering lily turf; tall and dwarf mondo grass; jasmine for the arbour; and various species of succulent. The overall look is clean and uncluttered yet warm and inviting