Italy: Green Terrace Roof Garden
When landscape architect Gabriella Mazzola designed a roof garden for her clients atop a modern residential building in Italy, she understood why they asked for "a green oasis of relaxation.” Her gentle hand with a feel for fine-textured plants creates a remarkable transformation and allows light to penetrate while providing screens for backgrounds and privacy. This space features a dozen great ideas for adding warmth and contrast to cold hard surfaces.
Warm and green, this lovely detailed design is a Mediterranean garden in miniature combined with specific plants that solve problems in this small but highly valued terrace. It demonstrates a fresh gardenesque style for spare modern architecture that is all too often landscaped with rigid forms and surfaces. The sun-drenched breakfast table is essential after dark when wall sconce lighting and natural flame lanterns augmented with invisible up-lights nestled in the planting provide gentle ambient illumination throughout these carefully crafted spaces.
Prior to Gabriella’s design, the original monochromatic rooftop patio was nothing but hard surfaces between two massive walls. It more closely resembled a prison yard than a residential outdoor space. The tubular steel overhead structure offered no aesthetic interest, but Gabriella seized its excellent opportunity for shading concepts and as a trellis for climbing plants.
This is the same view as the "before" photograph—demonstrating how completely this space changed with nothing more than ipe wood, potted plants, and well-chosen furnishings in lime green that add zest to the preponderance of earth tones. Here, the overhead structure has been changed to create shade with a simple roll of bamboo fencing. The two posts at the far end support fragrant false jasmine that will one day cover this metal structure, with shade giving foliage redolent with scent.
The twining stems of Trachelospermum jasminoides are fast growing and will quickly cover the steel posts and beams with evergreen foliage. During bloom season this is among the most potently scented form of jasmine that can fill this entire space in late spring.
The floor, originally all one level, is covered with ribbed Lapacho Ipe wood to provide a surface that's lightweight yet allows slight elevation changes that guide users subliminally toward living spaces. Gabriella explains: "I chose the wood because it is a living material, warm, cozy, and elegant, very suitable as a flooring for outdoor use." This wood will soon weather to a soft shade of warm gray.
Gabriella divided the roof garden space it into three different plains with only slight differences in elevation. Here, in the foreground is the lowest floor designed for approach, bringing the user into the space. Small circular lights embedded in the ribbed decking shows where these grade changes occur in the low light of evening. The second level, holding the twin dark pots of golden bamboo, flank the transition and better define the portal to the new living spaces. The third level is the primary living space where twin chaise lounges can be easily reoriented throughout the day as the sun passes overhead. A teak and steel furniture ensemble provides a comfortable conversation area, the dining table allows alfresco meals any time, and the barbecue against the coral wall provides easy grilling after a long day at work.
This conversation area offers a perfect place to gather and enjoy wine and hors d'oeuvres any time. The wall behind is espaliered with white roses and fragrant jasmine that bring the wall down to a human scale so it doesn't feel oppressive. "After setting the wall plugs, I anchored the eyelets and stretch thin galvanized steel wires." says Gabriella, who envisioned this wall as a vertical garden of foliage and flowers These wires are nearly invisible amidst the early growth of vines to make these walls far less oppressive when flanking such a small space. In large, chocolate-colored pots are lavenders to blend with fragrant flowers for a rich, plant-scented space. Note that the views are oriented across the space toward the coral wall with its climbing plants and accents.
Gabriella is a top-notch planting designer with a clear love of flowers and scent. These vines and roses cloak most of the building walls so they seem more natural than a vertical stucco surface. This deep-purple flower is Clematis 'Jackmanii', which is vivid and pops out from the surrounding white roses that lend powerful graphic interest in every direction.