Creating green places for restricted (or reluctant) gardeners

Physical limitations are not the only thing that puts people off gardening.  Lack of confidence, lack of time and poor planning can also make growing things seem daunting.

This article looks at ways in which forward planning can ensure that every building can have its own valuable green space, even if space is limited or the householder is not a keen gardener.  

beautiful green spaceWhy we need plants

Any gardener will tell you about the stress busting qualities of plants. Ecologists will tell you about the importance of biodiversity.  Architects and scientists will tell you about the insulation and cooling effects of a green roof or a living wall.  Estate agents will stress how a lovely garden can increase the value of a property.  Chefs will extol the virtues of home-grown food.

All of those credentials are important but the bottom line is……living green plants, whether they are edible, decorative or just weeds, produce the oxygen we breathe.  We need them.


Overcoming your planting problems

 1.      Lack of time? Don’t turn to stone

rabbit hutch with green roofA good garden caters for the needs and the tastes of everyone who uses it.   

Going to work, raising a family and running a home are time consuming to say the least. 

Relaxing in the garden is a great way to unwind and escape from the stress, but for some people, caring for the garden is stressful in itself.  

When this is the case, all too often the householder turns to stone.  Paving, gravel or maybe decking are seen as easily maintained, all weather surfaces; which of course they are.  In my opinion, they’re also quite dull.  They don’t change with the seasons, they don’t attract interesting wildlife, there’s no movement, no scent and no productivity.
Even a tiny bit of greenery makes a difference

If time is limited, why not consider a wildflower meadow, or plant sedums, thyme or other low-maintenance plants between paving slabs.

Façade greening also fairly easy to maintain.  Perhaps train a fruit tree or two against a wall or fence? 

Adding a green roof to a shed or a pagoda is a nice touch too – and it’s not difficult to look after.


Download the Enviromat guide to creating a living green roof

Learn how to create a low maintenance wildflower meadow

 2.      Lack of space? Try moving upwards

green wall on old houseMany modern gardens are small -  tiny even.  If that’s the case for your garden, it’s important to make every square centimetre count; including the walls.

Façade greening was extremely fashionable in the early 20th century but lost popularity as the Arts and Crafts movement fell into decline.  I’m happy to report though, that green walling has been rejuvenated and is back on trend.

Vertical gardening, as it’s known has many benefits for a homeowner plus, with the addition of a modern day irrigation system and timer, it’s a doddle to look after.   Choose plants that suit the light levels and the conditions in your garden (or roof terrace) and you can enjoy green space all year round.

If you fancy dabbling…why not use your living wall to grow strawberries, tomatoes, salad leaves or edible flowers?


More information and ideas about vertical gardening

 3. Physical limitation

Becoming older or infirm is not always a help to the gardener but that’s no excuse for paving over the lawn and staying indoors.

Raised beds are helpful for those of us who don’t want to be bending over or kneeling down for long periods of time.

Wildflower meadows are easier to maintain that formal lawns.

Vertical gardening at a comfortable height – eg so that it doesn’t involve bending or climbing – is a real boon and there are so many different plants that will lend themselves to the modern-day modular green wall systems.


How to create a wildflower meadow from seed

4.Lack of confidence - socialise with gardeners

My advice for this one is join a gardening club.  You will pick up a wealth of hints, tips and probably cheap plants too.  Social networking sites such as Pinterest are great places to look for inspiration.  Youtube has an enormous amount of knowledge – and all for free.

Once the design and infrastructure is in place for your garden/green wall/roof terrace you really can’t go wrong.  So you might lose a plant or two……..don’t let it worry you, even the best, most experienced gardeners are familiar with dead plants. 

Enjoy the experiment.

 5. Budget constraints

Very often a building will go over budget before the landscaping is even started and so things like green roofing, patios, paths and drainage are postponed until a later date.  That’s understandable.  Bear in mind though, that the most expensive part of planting is the infrastructure.


Making a small investment early in the design/build process can save thousands of pounds in the long run


If you have a small space to garden in or if you are planning to add a green roof at some point in the future it’s well worth consulting a landscaper architect as early as possible in your project. 


Think of the consultation fee as an investment. It could save you thousands of pounds later in the long run.  Potential problems such as access, aspect, drainage and load bearing capacity are so much easier to solve when they're tackled as the designing, planning and building process goes on.


Liz Ackerly is a landscape architect with a penchant for designing courtyard gardens, boutique allotments and roof terrace gardens...and she's extremely good at it.

Here's her view on some of the practical problems she encounters on a regular basis when creating roof gardens.

“There are a number of problems I encounter with respect to roof terraces.  They are as follows:

-The installations on many are not fit for purpose and are very utilitarian.  By that I mean that 600 x 600 concrete flags are used (low quality, similar to pavements!).  In addition, other materials are used which do not take into account the conditions of exposure on a roof, such as softwood that is then not maintained.  Aside from the materials used, they are also not designed well.  By that I mean that the layout often leads a lot to be desired and doesn't take into account how people may want to move around the space.  Finally the planting used is often poorly thought through (often leading to unimaginative and poorly maintained green rather than using the plants that work well on the roof).  Another issue is that lack of understanding of what maintenance is required.  All of these things lead to a disastrous waste of space and missed opportunity for meaningful green space that is of benefit to the occupants and the environment (e.g. cooling effects, protection of the roof, water management and wildlife benefits).


-The ways I get around these issues are implementing improved designs and using more durable materials.   In addition, I am designing as I would any outside space so that people can move through it and use as they would a garden, perhaps pausing to look at views or placing seating such that they can experience the running water of a water feature and the plants around them.  With respect to planting, I am using planting that works well on roofs such as grasses, sedums, plants that can deal with the exposure.  I also provide maintenance plans for my clients so that they know what to do when.


-I wish that I could get involved at the build stage as going in and retrofitting has lots of downsides.  For example, the management companies that oversee the buildings are often reluctant to approve the designs because of concerns eg with loading or leaking; in reality, they have already created the issues by not doing them properly in the first place!  With a couple, the management companies have actually said that they now realise that they should have done more at installation and would like to work with someone like myself in the future.  We will see if that happens!   Another issue with retrofitting is the access.  For example, cranes may or may not be possible and when you are 15 floors up that is a lot of additional labour.  The lifts then need to be used but there are restrictions on the size of items that can then be brought onto the terraces.


design for courtyard gardenI have designed a roof terrace that is about to be installed in Salford Quays and a couple of others that will be built this year too.  I therefore haven't got finished ones to share but below is a tiny courtyard completed as well as a couple of pics of the models I create (of the roof terraces).


Another issue with these types of spaces is that people seem to think that small spaces need less consideration, in fact, they need more consideration as every inch counts.  Everything has to be just right and quality and attention to detail is everything.  That said a huge amount can be achieved in a very small space (and by that I mean smaller than most people's gardens/courtyards!)”


tree in small gardenVisit Liz Ackerley's website

Learn how to create a wildflower meadow


Video: how to install a living green roof


Discover more about living walls and vertical gardening