Meet Amir Schlezinger, the man with the monopoly on designing London's most beautiful roof gardens. Over the past decade he has created more than 100 high-rise outdoor spaces that not only perch on some of the city's most exciting new developments, but also complement its ever-expanding skyline.
"First and foremost is to work with the view, framing the landscape," believes Israeli-born Schlezinger, who framed the view of nearby St Paul's Cathedral from a penthouse terrace in the City by craning in a ginkgo biloba tree, laid the boards of a hardwood deck on Grosvenor Waterside's roof garden to follow the line of Chelsea Bridge and, on a series of roof terraces at Tempus Wharf, installed customised "wave" planters to emulate the Thames beneath. On the 40th-floor roof terrace of Barbican's Cromwell Tower, concrete blocks hampered the view, so Schlezinger designed a movable platform as a podium to facilitate gazing at the Gherkin and other landmarks.
If there isn't a fabulous view, he might create an eye-distracting jungle of plants, or even borrow the neighbouring trees, focusing the lighting on those to create an eye-boggling vista at night. And if he's designing a roof garden on the lower terrace of a duplex, he might plant a tree so that, over time, the leafy canopy will provide a green view at both levels. "Because of new technology, modern terraces can look like real gardens, with raised beds, real grass and trees," says Schlezinger. Proof positive is the four-hole putting green of grass — albeit artificial — and sleek waterfall to distract from city hubbub, on a private Battersea penthouse roof garden.
The lawyer on the sixth floor of Clerkenwell's imposing Ziggurat Building had simpler needs for the small, slim terrace that curved around the living area of his new apartment. He wanted an outdoor space that looked terrific all year round from both indoors and out, yet needed little upkeep.
It took Schlezinger and his team three weeks this summer, at a cost of £18,000, to create the ideal low-maintenance solution, first replacing impractical white pavers with hardwood balau laid across the width, to both visually widen the space and easily follow the curve. A small floor area of glamorous black granite crystal defines the suntrap at one end and is divided from the decking by an LED strip that lights up at night. "The granite is very expensive," says Schlezinger, "but as it is for such a small area, it's a no-brainer."
As he does in all his projects, Schlezinger designed the containers to suit the space: in varying shades of grey, powder-coated steel planters have hollowed centres that are dramatically illuminated at night. One large, round, white container, designed to echo the white Saarinen Tulip table visible through the windows, is a garden in itself. With built-in irrigation and drainage, a ring of lighting around the base, and conveniently set on castors, it houses a trio of redbarked birch trees, mulched with perfect white Japanese pebbles. "Attention to detail, is paramount in a confined garden space because the eye scans everything close-up," says Schlezinger.
The foliage in the planters is evergreen and weatherproof, maximising on contrasts of shape and texture, so that bushy, fragrant thymes are interspersed with the rounded leaves of bergenia and spiky bronze carex grasses as well as hart's tongue ferns. At the suntrap end of the terrace, a line-up of fragrant lavender Twickel Purple will soon form a low hedge; at the other end, a trough of boldly striped Phormium cookianum Cream Delight and elephant-eared Bergenia Dumbo makes a striking full stop.
However, it is at night, when the four lighting zones flick on automatically, that the terrace looks its most dynamic, a fitting match for the vibrant, ever-changing city landscape it overlooks.
See Amir Schlezinger's website, mylandscapes.co.uk, for more contemporary gardens and roof terraces