Rooftop gardens are surprising, impressive and fun. Maybe it's because they are so counter-intuitive that people view them with admiration and wonder. They are a step away from reality. An organic, natural phenomenon in a completely unnatural place.
Rooftop gardens make a refreshing change from the usual mundane concrete roofs of buildings. They can be the crowning glory, the highlight of a building.
One of the world's most famous examples is Kensington Roof Gardens in central London. Created in the 1930s, they cover 1.5 acres and include three separate styles of garden - a Spanish/Moorish garden, a tudor inspired garden and an English woodland. And the great thing is they have largely remained as originally planted but have matured, giving the gardens a natural, bedded in feel.
The Spanish Gardens include palm trees and Moorish colonnades, the woodland garden has a river and grassy banks and the Tudor garden even has herringbone brickwork. The gardens have always been popular with Londoners and tourists - in the early days the public were charged for tours which raised money for local hospitals. Now they are Grade II listed and many of the trees are protected by tree preservation orders. They are currently owned by Virgin Group's Richard Branson and form part of a glamorous restaurant and party venue. And not only do they play host to countless trees, shrubs and flowers but also flamingos and ducks!
The same landscape designer, Ralph Hancock had already been to the USA where he had created "The Garden of the Nations" on top of the 11th floor of the Rockefeller Centre in Manhattan. It was an ambitious project, inspired by the gardens of Holland, Italy, England, Japan and Spain.
The English Garden included turf imported from England, and Cotswold stone. The site housed a horticultural centre where the public could buy bulbs, plants and even garden furniture and guided tours of the gardens could be enjoyed. The site was a venue for numerous plant and flower shows and meetings of New York gardening clubs. During the second world war the Japanese gardens were taken down and replaced with a Chinese garden. Sadly over the years the gardens have been neglected and very little of the original design remains. Who knows, maybe one day someone will be inspired to restore them.
The City of London boasts several rooftop gardens most impressively at No.1 Poultry and at the Liffe Building above Cannon Street railway station which both have landscaped shrubs and plants, not just a simple lawn. The Corporation of London, which is the local government body for the City of London is working to encourage more roof gardens in the Square Mile.
Other notable roof gardens include the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway in New York. At the turn of the 20th Century performances were often held on the roof. Remember these were the days before air conditioning when a light breeze was welcomed by audiences! The gardens remain but are no longer used for performances and are not open to the public.
The new Australian Parliament Building in Canberra was opened by the Queen in 1988. It's roof garden has a strong message. The roof is a grassy hill that members of the public are invited to walk on. This is supposed to symbolise that Australian politicians are working inside the building and under the authority of Australian citizens. If only all politicians were humble enough to carry out their duties in this way!
Chicago City Hall gained a rooftop garden in 2001. It is part of a city-wide project to discover the environmental benefits of green roofs. It is hoped to show that the heat island effect of urban areas can be reduced by planting green roofs. Another project that also directly impacts people is a rooftop garden on one of Chicago's hospitals. This provides a therapeutic area for patients who would otherwise not enjoy outdoor space during their hospital stay.
Rooftop gardens benefit us and the environment. They are unexpected, slightly quirky and a bonus to any building.