Introduction: NYC Landscape Design Guide

About: I'm a home and garden designer in NYC specializing in roof gardens, rooftop terraces, backyards, and interior design projects.

As an NYC landscape designer, I am constantly faced with the challenges of designing within a small space.  I’ve seen furniture that wouldn’t fit through terrace doors, unappealing views of brick walls, bowling alley-like wind tunnels, and roof gardens that are subjected to all the extremes that Mother Nature can possibly throw our way.   In the midst of the concrete jungle, here are a few design tips that can help you to tame the wilderness into an inviting paradise:


Take careful note of views that you want to keep open and unobstructed and place lower items in front of those areas.  For places where you need more privacy or want to soften an unappealing wall or fence, you can place taller plants to create a sense of enclosure and intimacy.

Step 2: BE a DRIP

When it comes to city gardens, especially sunny roof gardens and terraces, drip irrigation systems are a must and will save you lots of money in the long run.  Container plants need more water than plants in the ground, and will need to be watered once or twice a day in the summer.  Drip irrigation ensures accurate, thorough watering that will greatly reduce the likelihood of having to spend money on replacement plants each year.


Even in a small urban setting, a garden can be a great attractor for beautiful wildlife.  What could be better than sitting in your armchair and watching a brilliant butterfly or hummingbird come into your garden for a sip of nectar?  Good butterfly-attracting plants for city gardens include butterfly bush, hornbeam, clethra, dogwood, cherry, rhododendron, lilac, coreopsis, lavender, verbena, snapdragon, oregano, and parsley.  Good bird-attracting plants include birch, dogwood, juniper, cherry, strawberry, fig, pine, and sedge.  The best hummingbird-attracting plants are butterfly bush, coral bells, daylily, petunia, verbena, and weigela.


A garden on a terrace or rooftop is similar to a garden on top of a mountain.  If we look to nature for inspiration, we can see that plants on top of a mountain are heavier at the bottom, i.e. conifers, which prevents them from blowing over in a strong wind.  Top-heavy plants like lollipop-shaped trees will have a tendency to blow right off the rooftop.  Also, plants with smaller leaves typically hold up better in the wind than plants with larger leaves that can get shredded up very easily.


A small space will feel larger the less clutter there appears to be.  Having lots of individual, free-standing planters and furniture in different styles can make the space feel smaller and more hodgepodge.   Pick 2-3 colors to work with and 2-3 textures and repeat those elements in different combinations to make the space feel more harmonious and well designed.  I generally chose no more than 2-3 planter styles as well in any small garden.

Step 6: NYC Landscape Design Photos

View more inspiration photos of NYC landscape design projects and read more how-to tips on my blog,