Even the tiniest of gardens can enjoy the sustainable benefits of a living roof, with these seven easy green roof ideas for small gardens.
Our garden is essentially a tiny concrete yard. It’s all laid to slabs with a small border around the sides for plants. After trying unsuccessfully to store our bikes indoors, we’ve recently added a small bike shed to the space to house our bikes. With its gently sloping roof, I can’t help but think it would be perfect to build a green roof on. This would help inject a bit of greenery into an otherwise fairly barren space, and make our garden more sustainable.
I’ve been on a bit of a research mission, to find out what green roof ideas work well in small gardens. I wanted to share what I’ve found in case it helps inspire anyone else. I’ve also been digging into what kind of plants work well on green roofs and other practical considerations to keep in mind when adding a green roof, so keep reading for those too.
Table Of Contents
- What Is A Green Roof?
- What Are The Benefits Of A Green Roof?
- 6 Clever Green Roof Ideas For Small Gardens
- What Plants Grow Well?
- The Things You Need To Consider Before Installing A Living Roof
What Is A Green Roof?
First things first, it’s important to define what a green roof is.
Essentially, a green roof – also known as a living roof or eco-roof – is a sustainable roofing system that is designed to support vegetation. This creates a living space for nature on top of otherwise barren structures and buildings.
A green roof consists of a layer of soil or growing medium hosting a diverse range of plants, from grasses to flowers and shrubs. However, it’s not as simple as putting soil and plants on your roof; it requires a waterproof membrane, a root barrier (so that the roots of your plants don’t damage your roof, or cause leaks), and layers for drainage and filtration.
What Are The Benefits Of Green Roofs?
Green roofs don’t just look good in your small garden, they also offer many environmental benefits:
- Green roofs help improve air quality by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.
- They absorb rainwater, helping to mitigate the effects of flooding.
- They provide a habitat and source of food for pollinators.
- Green roofs help to mitigate the urban heat island effect – on hot days, helping to remove heat from the air, and reduce temperatures of the roof surface.
In short, they look good and do good!
7 Clever Green Roof Ideas For Small Gardens
If you’re looking to add a green roof to your small garden, then I’ve found seven clever ideas for even the tiniest of spaces. From ways to add spaces for nature to your shed, bike or bin store, to even on bug hotels or birdhouses, there’s a way to add a green roof almost anywhere:
1. The Bike Store
If you have an existing bike store, like ours, then this example looks like a standard bike shed that has been modified and strengthened to hold a green roof. It’s a great budget-friendly way of using what you already have to add some greenery to your garden, and a space for pollinators. I also love the use of alpine plants.
2. The Bike Store With Integrated Storage
If you are looking for something more bespoke for a small space, then I love this idea for a bike store/log store/garden store with a green roof. This looks like it is housed in a small concrete yard, much like mine. The bin in the corner of the photo indicates the size of the yard. I think if you can build a bike store with a green roof in that size of space, then you can add one anywhere!
3. The Shed
If your garden has a small shed, then this clever idea from Countryfile shows you can add a green roof to even the dinkiest of sheds. I love how they’ve also secured tubs onto the side of the shed to add additional growing space.
4. The Bin Storage With A Living Roof
If your garden space is even smaller, and you don’t have room for a bike store – just your bins – then it is still possible to give your space the green roof treatment. Lisa Cox Designs proves that you can add a green roof in the unlikeliest of places, with this bespoke bin store with a green roof. It’s a clever and stylish way to hide your bins, whilst making space for nature.
5. The Bug Hotel With A Green Roof
If the key aim of your garden is to make it as bug-friendly as possible, then you’ve probably already added a bug hotel. But if you are looking to up your bug hotel game, why not build the Grand Bug-apest Hotel (see what I did there?!)? This already provides a home for a whole host of bugs, but the addition of the green roof makes it even more valuable for pollinators. This looks like they’ve added turf on top – opt for more diverse planting to provide the most benefit to wildlife.
6. The Chicken Coop
My neighbour has devoted her small garden entirely to her chickens. If you’ve done similar, you’ll know that it’s hard to add any greenery to your garden as chickens will eat anything that shoots up. This person has found a workaround, by adding a green roof to the top of the chicken coop. This provides a space for greenery and pollinators, that the chickens can’t get to. Very clever!
7. The Bird Box For Teeny Tiny Gardens
Finally, if you lack the space or budget for any of the other green roof ideas, all is not lost. This photo shows that you can even add a green roof to a birdhouse or feeder. This is a great way to add some greenery if you don’t have any outdoor space at all – all you need to do is mount it to your wall and watch as the birds and insects make a home here.
What Plants Grow Well?
If you’ve been inspired to add a green roof, you might be wondering about what plants grow well on this type of structure.
When planting your green roof, it’s not just a case of going to your local garden centre and picking what you like the look of. Primarily, you need to select a variety of plants that are attractive to wildlife – picking out species that are beneficial to pollinators, such as bees and butterflies. This is because your key goal with a living roof is to support wildlife.
You then need to select low-maintenance plants that grow well in poor soil, can tolerate droughts, and withstand the elements.
It may sound like no plants would fit this tricky bill. However, sedum – a genus of the Crassulaceae family of succulent plants – does, and as such it’s often the best choice for small green roofs.
There are hundreds of different species of sedum, and within that thousands of different varieties, allowing you to create a semi-diverse habitat, and many are nectar-rich. These will attract important pollinators, such as ladybirds, butterflies, lace-wings and hoverflies to your garden.
Sedum is also very robust – tolerant of the extremes of drought and cold. Plus it has shallow roots and can cope well in poor soil.
Things You Need To Consider Before Installing A Living Roof
There are a couple of things to consider when you’re building a green roof.
Firstly, if you’re looking to add a green roof to an existing structure, you’ll need to consider whether your structure can take the weight of the green roof (as well as the weight of the water that the soil will hold when it rains or when it’s watered). Most existing structures will need to be reinforced to be able to hold that extra weight.
You’ll also need to consider waterproofing and drainage, to avoid damaging your existing roof.
Green roofs are a great way to add space to nature in even the smallest of spaces. Whether you are looking to add a green roof to your shed roof, bike or bin store or an even smaller space, such as a bird box, there’s a way to add greenery to almost anywhere. As well as helping nature, it helps improve the look of your garden too, so it really is a win-win.
Just take heed of the considerations you need to make – such as strengthening your existing structure – and protecting your existing roof to ensure your project is a success.