A patch of paradise, five by ten

No garden? No matter. The tiniest roof space can be a haven of colour and scent, says NIGEL COLBORN

Back in the Seventies, I used to hobnob around the Middle East, giving nutritional advice to factory farmers. You don't want the details, believe me, but at the end of each trip, suffering from heat stress and culture shock, I would call at Cyprus for a weekend of recovery. The armed soldiers in Nicosia were far less frightening than the manic taxi drivers of Tehran, and one could bear the daytime heat knowing that each evening would be spent sipping Naafi Scotch in the cool, jasmine-fragrant atmosphere of my friend's roof terrace.

My friend Nikos was a hopeless gardener. He cared nothing for composts or pruning, and when I once commented that Cyprus was blessed with a heritage of lovely wild flowers he was incredulous. "Such as ...?" he demanded. "Cyclamen," I ventured. "Tulips." "Don't be ridiculous," he replied, "everyone knows they come from Holland," unaware that the ravishing wild forebears of those monstrously overbred plants grow undisturbed in the rocky wastes and rough pastures of his island.

Ignorant he may have been, but as an aesthete Nikos adored his roof terrace. Three floors up - high enough to soften the noise of the streets below and to benefit from the evening breeze - it was a tonic for him, after an exhausting workday, to sit among the plants that his wife kept alive through the cruel Cyprus summers. She had created shade by growing potted jasmines - the intensely scented Jasminum polyanthum - at either end of the terrace, training their stems along an overhead frame. There was a lemon tree in a big terracotta pot and a myrtle bush, close-clipped but delightful to caress, so that the spicy aroma blended with the sharper fragrance of the jasmine. Other plants were more commonplace: a mother-in-law's tongue, a jade tree Crassula ovata. Water was short in summer so it was just as well that most of these plants were desert species.

Under British skies, simplicity still works best. Strong outline planting is crucial to give the design a backbone, and you'll need evergreens to keep things lively in winter. Most of these - box, holly, bay - will live happily in containers and can be trimmed into formal shapes. Once these living bones are in place you will need more plants to ensure a succession of floral events throughout the year. Summer is easy enough, but even on the tiniest terrace there can be something flowering, producing berries or showing handsome foliage, whatever the month, whatever the weather.

You can produce food on a roof terrace, too, and as many fresh herbs as you could possibly need. Sage, rosemary, thyme, marjoram and basil all love sun, and respond to constant trimming by growing hundreds of new shoots. Ken Muir offers Victorian-style strawberry planters which accommodate 32 plants and come with protective netting and a central watering system (contact Honeypot Farm, Weeley Heath, Clacton-on-Sea, Essex CO16 9BJ for a catalogue). You could try planting one with the pink-flowered strawberry "Vivarosa". Tomatoes such as "Tumbler" are perfect for a roof terrace, as are containerised carrots, cabbage, kale and lettuce. One minute these are decorative foliage plants, the next they are lunch!

Practical limitations will influence your ambitions. Weight restrictions, the possibility of water seepage and accessibility are important factors. You might find yourself having to carry potting compost up several flights of stairs - hardly an incentive to grow trees in troughs, but succulents need very little soil. If watering is difficult, go for Mediterranean plants. Lavenders, santolina, geraniums, yuccas, petunias and most silver-leaved plants are ideal.

Where flooding is likely - flat roofs are notorious for this - place containers in waterproof trays or on "feet". And in windy places, you'll need to construct - or grow - screens. The prettiest way is to set up a line of troughs each with its own trellis. Plant them with hedging, or with climbers such as clematis or honeysuckle, then sit back and enjoy. It might be a bit colder than Cyprus but wrap up and you'll never know the difference.



All these thrive in containers. Those marked * need winter protection.

MARCH: Daphne mezereum - bright purple, fragrant flowers. Early tulips - try "Purissima".

APRIL: Camellia x williamsii "Donation" - evergreen with big pink blooms. Violas of any kind.

MAY: Spanish gorse Genista hispanica - compact with golden flowers. Perennial wallflowers.

JUNE: Potted roses: try "Flower Carpet White". Blue petunias*.

JULY: Myrtus communis, the hardiest myrtle. Geraniums* - choose scented- leaf kinds.

AUGUST: Fuchsias*. Osteospermums* in pastel shades.

SEPTEMBER: Ceanothus "Autumnal blue" - evergreen shrub, blue flowers. Nerine bowdenii - pink lily-like blooms.

OCTOBER: Solanum rantonetii* - blue flowers until the first frost. Canna indica* is lovely with this.

NOVEMBER: Erica carnea - white or pink. Korean chrysanthemums.

DECEMBER: Holly, clipped to desired size or shape. Christmas rose Helleborus niger.

JANUARY: Fragrant Sarcococca hookeriana. Snowdrops. Aconites.

FEBRUARY: Daphne laureola. Evergreen shrub for shade, richly fragrant flowers. Crocuses.

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own