The brief was to create a low-maintenance terrace that reflected the interior design of the home and would be a place where the client could socialise or relax after a long day.
Previously, the roof had been covered with plywood and astroturf. This combination holds water and the wood was rotting a few years after installation. There was no planting and the terrace felt exposed and unfriendly. McAfee chose to replace it with an ipe hardwood decking stained with a Sioo wood protector to accelerate the ageing process and create an even, silver-grey effect in weeks. The decking pattern has variation to create interest and demarcate different ‘rooms’ in the roof garden.
The garden is entered via a spiral staircase. LED strips on each step ensure safety and create a dramatic light sculpture. At the top of the steps there is a kitchen and bar area where you can pick up a glass of something refreshing and head on into the garden or chat to whoever is manning the BBQ. As well as a fridge and BBQ unit, the kitchen has a Quooker tap – providing permanent hot water so a quick cup of tea can be made all year round. Under the sink is a battery-controlled irrigation system to water the plants. The Wi-Fi and Sonos sound system are based in another compartment which means the client can play their favourite music from a mobile phone through 360° speakers hidden around the garden.
From the kitchen area you move to the dining area – protected from sun and minor showers by parasols with heavy concrete bases to withstand the wind. It’s always worth thinking of sun when designing a roof terrace and if building restrictions prevent a permanent structure then strong parasols are a great alternative. Plugs around the garden allow discreet portable heaters to be placed nearby and extend usage of the garden in the evening. Portable LED lanterns can be moved around to where they are needed.
The ‘living room’ area is screened off by large planters that run across the centre of the terrace and around the back. These are fibreglass to remain lightweight and have a faux-lead finish. There is a huge L-shaped sofa here and views of the city of London are left unobstructed. All the furnishings are waterproof. Accent cushions prevent them from being too blocky and the colours complement the planting rather than dominate it. The waterproof carpet with matching pouffe finish the look and make it feel as comfortable and relaxing as a room inside.
The planting is largely Mediterranean with some grasses. Mediterranean plants have silver leaves that reflect light and reduced leaf temperature to cope with full sun. They are generally small and tough and can deal with wind. Olive trees, weeping rosemary and several varieties of lavender combine well together and create a strong theme. Large rectangular blocks of Prunus lusitanica – a tough evergreen hedging shrub – provide privacy and a sense of enclosure. The colour scheme for the flowers is blue, white and purple. The flowering season begins early with Iris reticulata ‘J.S. Dijt’ bulbs emerging in February and continues all the way through until the last of the Verbena bonariensis ‘Lollipop’ finish flowering in November.
Robin McAfee has a degree in English literature and a diploma in garden design. He has a reputation for building gardens that are contemporary but not over formal. He describes this job as: “A dream – I got to work with a friendly and creative client who cares about design and was supported by an excellent team of landscapers who delivered the vision”.