Terrace garden ideas to elevate an urban space

Audrey J. Powers

Terrace garden ideas are an essential tool for urban dwellers. For your terrace or patio is your one (usually quite small) opportunity to escape the urban environment and decompress. How it’s designed will dictate how you spend your time there – will your focus be on outdoor dining with friends, or enjoying the view, or spending time looking after your plants? 

“Design it to align with your lifestyle,” advises the New York City-based landscape designer Todd Haiman. For those with roof terraces, Todd cautions against buying plants without first acquainting yourself with the load-bearing capacity of your terrace surface: “Plants and soil can be heavy.” 

(Image credit: Georgia Lindsay)

All outdoor space attracts paraphernalia that can blight one’s view – be it kids’ toys, gardening equipment, exercise apparatus, etc. And when your terrace or patio is tight on space, sometimes those items just pile up, ruining all your hard work. The London-based garden designer Georgia Lindsay designed these two fretwork screens featuring abstract trees for her clients to store their bikes. 

“We all need screening of some sort in our gardens – it might be for privacy, to screen your compost pile or a storage area,” explains Georgia. “Here, the two decorative screens partition the rear of the garden allowing for concealed storage.” The bespoke screens were laser-cut to order by Decori, a firm specializing in metal artwork for homes and gardens. 

Screens are a perfect alliance of form and function – they not only conceal garden clutter but they also set the tone aesthetically. Plus, adds Georgia, “They can also be enhanced by garden lighting to create a dramatic effect in the evening.”

9. Make a feature of split-level terraces

garden terrace ideas on a split level

Design by Butter Wakefield

(Image credit: Jason Ingram)

With outdoor space at such a premium in city centers, you have to make do with the challenges presented. Even if, as was the case here, it does mean a significant level change right in the middle of it. 

For the award-winning American garden designer Butter Wakefield, this entailed creating a striking set of steps to unite the split-level patio at this end-of-terrace town house in Chelsea, London, in order to make a “cohesive and interesting union between the two levels,” she says. 

It also entailed craning much of the supplies, furniture, trees and lead cistern up and over the house in or
der to be able to access the small city space. Using a planting palette of pale and darker pinks, whites and a bit of mauve and purple, Butter introduced lots of multi-seasonal pollinator-friendly planting, and scented climbers and roses such as R. Generous Gardener and R. Claire Austin. 

She planted four multi-stem trees – Pittosporum tobira – which have glossy evergreen leaves and “wonderful, highly scented cream-coloured flowers”. “It is a great little tree for small spaces as it is very easy to prune and keep tidy and compact,” she says. 

Despite being a narrow garden, the space is visually united by the brickwork – handmade in Belgium by Vande Moortel –  throughout both levels, as well as the dividing wall, for which Butter fashioned lots of interesting pattern changes throughout. “We love their dark moody tone – they look particularly pleasing next to all shades of green, and work well with other materials, too.”   

10. Create fantasy with a striking pattern

garden terrace ideas

(Image credit: Essentia Environments)

Perfectly tended lawns are an ambition too far for most roof terraces. But this stumbling block also creates an opportunity – laying artificial grass enables you to get much more creative than regular turf would ever allow for. 

At this private villa in New Delhi, the architectural firm Essentia Environments hand-cut the artificial grass into a unique pattern of beautiful curves and swirls, in order to “lend an ornate look to the contemporary design of the terrace”, explains Hardesh Chawla, co-founder of Essentia Environments. 

“Instead of using a flat grass mat, we wanted to add a bold artistic flair to the landscape.” The green mat holds the entire space together, he adds, “yet it doesn’t dominate; it’s subtle and complements  the other bold features in the scheme.”

How do I make my terrace beautiful?

Terraces come in all shapes and sizes, but the best way to make them beautiful is to fill them with plants. “My advice for anyone with a terrace is to use the largest planters they can have (subject to access and weight) to accommodate planting,” says the London-based landscape gardener, Tony Woods, principal of Garden Club London. 

“This means the plants/trees have lots of root zone to grow into” – after all, a beautiful garden is a flourishing garden. Also, adds Tony, “It’s much more sustainable as you don’t need to water them so much.”

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