Are You Think About Gardening Without Ground

For many people, hardscaped areas might be the only outdoor places available to create a garden. Rather than limiting, this lack of earth can open up a world of possibilities. Whether your area is a small terrace off the back kitchen, or a rooftop or balcony, there are a number of practical and design considerations to bear in mind when taking a barren hardscape from boring to beautiful.

One of the primary design considerations for any garden – especially a garden carved out of a barren, hardscaped area – is how you plan to use the space. Defining the purpose for the garden will drive design and plant choices.

  • Do you want to entertain friends or is the area to be a private refuge?
  • Would you like an edible garden from which to cook outdoors or inside
  • Do you simply want to block out the neighbors?
  • How important – or an impediment – is the view?
  • Are there obstructions that cannot be overlooked, such as an air conditioner or gutters?
  • What are the size limitations of the area?

You can delineate garden rooms in even the smallest of terraces or balconies. For example,

  • Freestanding vertically planted walls, fencing, or trellises can be used to separate one area from another
  • Obelisks, furniture, and rugs might divide garden areas
  • Tile or stone paths can send you in a new direction

Your responses to these questions will drive your design decisions. If you want the area to simply be a place to sit with coffee before work, you’ll want to focus on necessities – a chair, a table, and a few plants in containers to soften the hardscape. On the other hand, if your intention is to mimic a larger, on-the-ground ground garden, you’ll want to create different rooms, delineate movement


Once you have decided the purpose for the space, determine how you will get containers, plants, furniture, and ornaments to the area and the impact of weight, climate, and weather in the space. Ask yourself:

  • Do you need permission from the landlord or association if you live in a condominium or apartment?
  • Do you need a structural engineer to ensure the area can sustain the weight of heavy plants, vessels, and ornaments?
  • Is the area windy?
  • How does the light bounce off of walls and how will that affect plants?
  • Are there spaces in complete shade?
  • How will the snow or beating sun impact each of the items in the area?

The importance of understanding weight, weather, and climate conditions before designing a terrace, balcony, or rooftop garden cannot be overstated.