A rooftop garden with an urban aesthetic
When the owner of this resplendent Mills District perch— five stories from the ground—learned that a crane would be required to create the rooftop garden she desired, she almost gave up on her dream. Fortunately, Shane Schaaf, owner and lead designer of Earthscapes Stoneworks and Design, convinced her that the process wouldn’t be as daunting as it sounds.
“It saves money to simply put the materials on top of the roof rather than hauling them up through the building,” he explains. “It’s a challenge in downtown Minneapolis and, of course, it requires permits, but it’s common with rooftop design—and worth it.”
Hiring a crane was among the easier solutions to the dwelling’s challenges. Schaaf had to calculate how much weight the roof could bear and build the design elements in sections that could be assembled on location. He also had to incorporate two existing 8-foot by 10-foot metal partition walls—necessary for privacy, but somewhat of an eyesore—into his plan.
In fact, the walls became the perfect backdrop for what Schaaf describes as the “garden tower,” an insulated, fully irrigated, custom-designed vertical garden, which the homeowner requested in copper. “The owner is a fan of succulents, which fortunately do well in a hot, windy environment such as a rooftop,” says Schaaf. “The many varieties add texture.”
To add form, and to camouflage the roof’s safety balustrade, Schaaf created a 49-foot scalloped planter of prairie grasses. “When you look down on it, it looks like seven ‘eyes’ all lined up,” he says. Schaaf used copper on the front to match the garden tower, and aluminum on the back to reduce the cost.
A flagstone patio incorporated the homeowner’s request for a fire pit. Its eye-shaped design relates to the planters and to an old church truss that Schaaf used as a sculptural element. The design’s blend of industrial and natural materials creates a respite that feels inspired by the city, yet miles, not mere stories, from the hustle and bustle below.
Expert Tip: Garden Stonework
“Stonework is often overlooked in gardens, but it’s a fundamental ingredient. We created a sculptural rock garden with moss rock to give the illusion of age, as the original space appeared shiny and new.”
— Schane Schaaf, Earthscapes Stoneworks and Design