A small rooftop garden on a city terrace showcases smart space use.

Creating a useable, beautiful garden around a plunge pool that sits on top of a Victorian terrace’s double garage is no easy task. So when landscape designer Matt Hook of Outdoor Establishments was asked to create a functional entertaining area in the small outdoor space in the Sydney suburb of Paddington, he had his work cut out for him. The request from the client was threefold; the garden needed to provide access to the existing pool, conceal the ugly pool equipment and also introduce plenty of greenery into the limited space available.

Firstly, Matt looked at toning down the materials. “The area was dominated by hard surfaces, with a tiled floor and masonry walls,” he says. “We needed to soften the feel of the garden, so timber was the obvious choice. We used spotted-gum decking boards to create seating and lounging areas, as well as conceal the pool equipment. The space is small but because of the stepped layout of the decking, it manages not to overwhelm the space.”

Australian-made Moroccan-inspired tiles cover the wall at one end of the pool. “I wanted to create a focal point to the rear of the garden,” says Matt. “We chose the colours to complement the existing pool tiles, as well as the grey tones in the planters.” Their curved repetitive pattern contrasts with the stark lines of the rest of the garden and decking.

The feature wall is given a lush exotic feel by the bright green hanging mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis). “Mistletoe cactus has a great trailing habit,” says Matt. “It’s planted in a custom stainless-steel trough, which we had made and hung on the wall. An existing water pipe, which formed part of an old water feature, was used to irrigate the plants.”

Due to the small space that Matt had to work in and the busy lifestyle of his client, “low-maintenance requirements were a priority when selecting which plants to use,” says Matt. However, the main influence behind the choice of plants was the fact that they are all grown in containers. “The soil will dry out quickly and exceed normal temperatures when compared to a normal soil profile in the ground,” he says.

The lush bright Korean velvet grass (Zoysia tenuifolia) in the square planter pops against the timber’s grey tone and, more importantly, doesn’t require mowing, so it can be left to its own devices. The frangipani tree in the same planter provides a dramatic shape against the tiled wall and an exotic scent to the garden when it flowers during the warmer months.

The jade plant (Crassula ovata) in the planters at the front of the saltwater plunge pool act as a shield for the irrigation system to the pots. “The client had some existing jade plants that we reused,” says Matt. “They were a perfect choice as their leaves draw the eye away from what people don’t need to see.”

Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) is grown up the wall by the pool, supported by a trellis, and is also being grown on the opaque glass fence opposite, effectively softening the surfaces. “Star jasmine is common in Sydney for good reason,” says Matt. “It’s extremely hardy and also provides lush green foliage, as well as an abundance of white fragrant flowers, during spring.” The Persian shield (Strobilanthes gossypinus) in planters along the walls have a “soft grey, peppery-coloured foliage”, which contrasts against the pool tiles and the decking.

Strategically placed patterned cushions in soft grey and yellow from Cosh Living and Eco Outdoor bring comfort to the ample seating options. Tables and chairs are also incorporated into the area. This opens up the possibilities of the space as an outdoor entertainment spot for gatherings or a place of solitary retreat that is both flexible and functional.

For more information on Matt’s work, visit outdoorestablishments.com.