Green roofs: sedum and living roof ideas and their benefits

Insulate your buildings and improve your view with these ideas for green roofs – from sedum and wildflower roofing, to urban oases up high

green roof idea on modern building
(Image credit: Joe Ferrer/Alamy Stock Photo)

Green roofs are becoming increasingly commonplace, and we have to say, we're not entirely surprised. They transform dull, grey areas into vibrant vistas of life, and they're good for the environment in more ways than one. If you're thinking about including more ideas for sustainable gardens in your plot, they're a great contender to consider.

But what exactly is a green roof? Well, it's 'a roof that supports the growth of grass and a variety of plants,' says Chris Bonnett of GardeningExpress.co.uk. 'They're most commonly planted onto shed roofs, offering additional growing space, texture and color to your garden, all whilst providing more room for local wildlife.'

'Green roofs also help in a small, but significant way to reduce carbon emissions, whilst providing sound and heat insulation,' Chris adds. Plus, most green roofs only need maintaining a few times a year, he continues. 'Simply ensure drainage outlets remain clear, plants are watered in the dry season, and bare areas are re-planted.'

Of course, green roofs aren't limited to sheds – they can be installed onto entire buildings, or teeny tiny bird houses. We've got lots of ideas, from planting to positioning, to get you inspired for your own green roof oasis. Just keep scrolling to find out more.

1. Add a green roof to your patio cover

green roof idea over porch

Try adding a living roof to your patio shelter

(Image credit: Hilda Weges/Alamy Stock Photo)

A green roof can be a wonderful way to liven up a patio, as seen in this contemporary example above. 

Paired with a monochrome exterior, a plant-covered structure will make a striking contrast – both in terms of color and texture. Plus, whilst you're being sheltered from the odd spot of rain, the greenery overhead will be enjoying a good drink. It's a win-win!

Take a look at our patio cover ideas for more stunning styles.

2. Bring your garden building to life

green roof on garden building

Elevate your garden office with green roof ideas

(Image credit: Lois GoBe/Alamy Stock Photo)

More and more of us are working from home these days. And, to keep the divide between work and home-life distinct, garden office ideas are proving popular.

So if your commute to work is to the bottom of your plot, then this idea might be the one for you. Adding a green roof over your garden building not only looks super-stylish, but it will also help to keep the temperature stable inside. Plus, it will reduce noise pollution, so that you can work in peace. It's the perfect way to set the tone for a productive day.

3. Blend your home into the surroundings

grass green roof in natural landscape

This green-roofed home fits into the surroundings beautifully

(Image credit: Ashley Cooper pics/Alamy Stock Photo)

If you want to embrace green roof ideas on a bigger scale, then you might consider covering your entire home with one. It's a beautiful way to blend your property into its natural surroundings, like in this design above, and will give any structure a unique look.

Plus, large green roofs absorb quantities of rain water during storms, which is helpful to prevent flash floods.

Looking for more eco landscaping ideas? Take a look at our feature.

4. Downsize your green roof for a mini-allotment

shed ideas: allotment roof

The allotment shed from The Posh Shed Company shows that green roof ideas don't have to be on a huge scale

(Image credit: The Posh Shed Company)

If the idea of turning your whole roof green seems a little ambitious, then how about using the top of your garden storage unit as a base instead?

It's a great option for smaller plots, courtyard gardens, or even balconies that are crying out for a touch more foliage. Plus, if you go for a design like the one above, you can swap out the classic green-roof-plant choices to grow your own veggies.

If traditional raised garden beds are a no-go, then this is a brilliant alternative.

5. Green up your bird house

green roof ideas for bird house

Bring green roof ideas to your garden's bird house

(Image credit: Zigzag Mountain Art/Alamy Stock Photo)

Have you checked out our bird house design ideas yet? They're a lovely way to welcome feathered friends into your plot, and make a pretty feature for any garden. If you're figuring out which style to go for, a cute structure like this is definitely one to add to the list.

It just goes to show that if something has a roof, you can make it green, no matter how big or small. This rustic, emerald-hued beauty is given a whole new look with succulents up top, and will be super-easy to maintain.

Take a look at our guide on how to grow succulents for advice, to help you recreate the look.

6. Use green roof ideas as part of a wild garden

green roof on building

Green roof ideas are great for welcoming new wildlife to your plot

(Image credit: Joe Ferrer/Alamy Stock Photo)

If you love our wildlife garden ideas, then green roofs are a perfect addition to your plot. Whether covering your roof in low-growing sedums or textural grasses and wildflowers, they're sure to give your home a more natural look. What's more, the stretch of green will provide habitats for pollinators and small birds as their homes in the wild are increasingly destroyed.

Plant a wild meadow nearby, or even a nature pond, to complete the look and enhance your garden's environmental credentials even further. 

7. Create a rooftop oasis

residential roof top garden with stepping stone path and pergola

Green roof ideas expand to roof gardens, too

(Image credit: Tony Giammarino/Alamy Stock Photo)

There are three main types of green roof, as the RHS explains – extensive, intensive, and semi-intensive. The extensive kinds consist of multiple, thin layers, including mediums for waterproofing, insulation, drainage, and growing. These are then topped with low-growing or other light-weight plants, and are low-maintenance. 

Intensive green roofs, on the other hand, are all about actual roof gardens. The example above is a case in point. The space is intended to be used and often includes container planting alongside ground cover such as creeping thyme.

Maintenance is much higher for intensive green roofs. But, if the results look like the scene above, then that extra care is well worth it. Drought-tolerant plants that can handle long periods of sun make good additions. Some intensive green roofs even include trees. Take a look at our small garden ideas feature for more inspiration.

There are also semi-intensive green roofs, which have deeper substate and drainage than extensive, and are used for growing naturalistic swathes of wildflowers and grasses.

8. Make outdoor storage more interesting

small front garden ideas: wheelie bin storage with growing roof from Cuckooland

Who knew that storing the bins could look so good? This design is from Cuckooland

(Image credit: Cuckooland)

Even your humble bin storage can benefit from green roof ideas. With designs like the one above, it's easy to turn an eyesore into a gorgeous focal point.

Due to its easy-access height, you can simply treat it like any other large planter in your garden. Fill with seasonal flowers and foliage and place trailing varieties around the edge for a romantic final flourish.

Take a look at our garden storage ideas for more useful and stylish designs.

9. Try a green roof on your shed

shed with green roof in vegetable patch

Use green roof ideas to liven up a shed

(Image credit: Diana Pappas/Alamy Stock Photo)

Elevate your wooden shed ideas by adding a verdant stretch of green overhead. It'll give your garden a lovely rustic edge, plus will help you keep the cold out whilst you're getting on with winter garden jobs.

We also love the addition of woven edging in this set-up above, which ties into the naturalistic theme nicely.

10. Create an urban escape

green roof idea in city designed by Bowles & Wyer

This rooftop garden is designed by Bowles & Wyer

(Image credit: Paul Upward/Bowles & Wyer)

Intensive green roof ideas are brilliant for making a relaxing retreat in a built-up area. So if you have access to a lacklustre roof terrace that you simply don't use, there are lots of reasons to give it a green-roof makeover.

'A well-designed green roof can be a constant source of pleasure,' says John Wyer, CEO and Senior Designer of Bowles & Wyer. 'The real joy is that with access to light and water, it's possible to enliven the flatness of the urban environment. Their popularity has grown in recent years, thanks to the increase in property prices and density of development which has put a premium on outdoor spaces in the city.' 

'Green roofs not only provide aesthetic pleasure, and are often viewed from multiple angles and viewpoints from a property, but also add greenery and biodiversity to an otherwise built-up urban area,' he continues.

What's more, in urban environments, green roofs are also helpful for cooling temperatures, and improving air quality. So, they're a great feature to consider if you're striving to be more environmentally-friendly.

What are the best plants for green roofs?

wildflower meadow on top of garden building

Wildflowers can thrive as part of your green roof ideas

(Image credit: Wildflower Turf)

The best plants for green roof ideas need to be able to put up with the more extreme conditions of their location, such as excessive sunlight and unsheltered winds.

Green roofs are very exposed and not unlike a seaside micro-climate, says John Wyer, CEO and Senior Designer of Bowles & Wyer. 'So, if you want a maritime feel for your green roof, seaside plants are often well-suited to these conditions.' 

'It's important to ensure that the planting works with the environment, rather than against it,' he continues. 'Opting for a naturalistic planting scheme often works well too – as you'll be mixing different species of plants, which will all fight for their own survival. You'll inevitably have some losses, but if planned carefully you'll also have plants blooming at all times of year. That mix of species will also make the most of the substrate layer – each plant will differ in root structure and will reach different depths of the layer.'

Other typical contenders include succulents; alpine or rockery plants; wildflowers, and hardy, drought-tolerant perennials, says the green roof experts at Boningale Green Sky. Basically, the plants you choose need to like free-draining, poor soils, they add. Sedums are a popular choice, due to the wide variety of colors and shapes available and their low-maintenance nature. You can find inspiration for small rock garden ideas and how to plant a wildflower meadow in our features.

'Using different varieties of wildflowers and grasses works well as they are resilient, while still attractive to a wide range of wildlife', adds Chris Bonnett of GardeningExpress.co.uk. 'If you have a pitched roof, remember that the plants at the top will receive less water than those at the bottom, so take that into consideration when planting.'

What are the disadvantages of a green roof?

sedum plants on green roof

A sea of sedum makes an attractive roof cover, but make sure your structure is strong enough to support it

(Image credit: Simon Turner/Alamy Stock Photo)

Unfortunately, there can be a few downsides to green roof ideas, mostly regarding the installation process.

'For homeowners, the disadvantages are that they add extra weight to the roof which most sheds and garden structures aren't designed for,' says the team at Boningale Greensky. 'So, you may have to reinforce the roof or get a structural engineer's advice, depending on the structure.'

Also you may need to think about how to get up, to do maintenance on the plants, they add.

John Wyer of Bowles & Wyer says, 'A green roof can be one of the most exciting and unusual outdoor spaces – or if you don't get it right, one of the most unpleasant! The gritty reality is that green roofs can be daunting places to try and establish a garden and they present tricky technical challenges.' 

'Creating a green roof involves careful consideration of the microclimate: sun, shade and exposure, as well as technical aspects such as weight loading, drainage and irrigation, which often require professional help.' This is especially the case with larger projects, which are well-worth calling in the experts for.

Holly Crossley
Holly Crossley

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then. She's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator – plants are her passion. But, she loves all things digital too. She joined the team at Gardeningetc after working as a freelance content creator for a web agency, whilst studying for her M.Sc. in Marketing. Now she feels lucky enough to combine both digital and botanical worlds, every day!