Until now, streamlined city terraces and wildlife-friendly gardens were very different spaces; the former likely to hold little more than a few planters of clipped box, the latter packed with a wide variety of trees, shrubs and perennials to provide shelter and sustenance.
However, garden designer Amir Schlezinger, renowned for his disciplined, minimal rooftop spaces in the heart of London, took on the challenge of marrying the two disparate styles for clients living in the most urban of settings — a fourth-floor apartment in a block overlooking a stark and leafless intersection along the City’s Clerkenwell Road.
“The loss of habitats and the use of pesticides in town and country mean that the numbers of bees, birds and butterflies, which are crucial to our ecosystem, are declining at a rapid rate,” he says. “My clients were passionate about having a garden in the centre of town that would also care for the environment.”
The outside area consists of two terraces. Schlezinger broke up the long, narrow expanse of the larger one with three diverse floor coverings — of artificial grass, hardwood decking and sandstone paving.
In one corner, on the artificial grass, a sculptural white circular planter holds the token tree, a native spindle, Euonymus europaeus Red Cascade, chosen for its multi-stemmed, architectural silhouette, an ability to withstand high-level wind and its glorious autumn foliage and orange-pink seedpods, a valuable food source for birds and insects. Schlezinger kept to his signature bespoke planters of sleek, powder-coated steel.
British native species are richer sources of nectar and berries than modern hybrids, so his plant selection focused on those, with an exception of purple Angelica gigas, from China.
“The large flowerheads provide instant nectar for tons of bees, which began frequenting the terrace as soon as we’d planted it.” Another Chinese native, Buddleia davidii, is included for its renowned appeal to butterflies.
The deep planters are roomy enough to hold several more shrubs, including hawthorn, guelder rose Viburnum opulus, alder blackthorn and cotoneaster, all providing berries for birds, while a dense laurel hedge along one end of the terrace forms a windbreak and offers shelter to birds.
Perennials for a rooftop wildlife garden need to be heavy on nectar, says Schlezinger. His choices include echinacea, which is a magnet for bees, achillea, valerian, lavatera, perennial wallflower Erysimum Bowles’ Mauve, Russian sage Perovskia atriplicifolia, foxgloves and hollyhocks. The thistle-like flowers and conical seedheads of teasels, beloved by beneficial insects, make them a must-have.
Alpines and herbs, including prostrate rosemary, provide nectar earlier in the year. On the smaller terrace, Schlezinger built an elevated steel viewing platform so the clients could look out on to the Old Bailey and St Paul’s Cathedral.
This terrace also offers a potted fruit orchard — the birds can demolish any edibles that aren’t used. A Regent grapevine, fan-trained Cox’s orange pippin and fig tree Ice Crystal benefit from the warmth of a brick party wall, while a trough of flouncy rhubarb foliage is underplanted with dark bugle Ajuga Black Scallop.
Schlezinger believes wildlife-friendly plants could be incorporated into every roof terrace in the centre of town. “A modern roof terrace doesn’t need to be a bleak architectural statement,” he says. “I believe there is so much habitat loss with urban land development that it is everyone’s responsibility, whether tending a roof terrace, balcony, patio or courtyard, to contribute by introducing native flora which attracts and supports wildlife.”