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Design Series: Garden Trends with Jack Merlo

Beautiful Rooftop & Terrace Gardens

Renowned for his innovative approach to garden design, award-winning landscape architect Jack Merlo shares his views on what’s trending right now and how advances in technology and materials have transformed the way he designs beautiful, harmonious, and sustainable green spaces.

What is trending right now in garden design?

Changes to the way Melburnians are choosing to live, such as in apartment complexes where outdoor space is limited means that we must be cleverer in the way we design landscaping and gardens. We are doing a lot of landscaping that’s not necessarily in the ground – in some cases it could be a couple of hundred metres in the air.


Can you have a beautiful, lush garden if you live in an apartment?

Of course, downsizing shouldn’t mean sacrificing a garden. Traditionally, in Melbourne, it was perceived that people lived in apartments because they either didn’t want or couldn’t afford a house with a garden. That notion has changed dramatically in recent years, partly because of the integration of landscaping into the architectural design process. People can now have all the benefits of apartment living, such as security, location, convenience, and a lock-up-an-leave lifestyle ­– and be surrounded by beautiful low-maintenance greenery.


How do you design an apartment rooftop or terrace garden?

We collaborate with architects to incorporate the infrastructure required, such as irrigation, drainage and pedestal paver systems and incorporate design elements like creating planters over structures. In the last few years, there have been some amazing developments in lightweight materials that give the appearance of natural stone, and these can be filled with lightweight growing mediums. There are also so many more options now for natural stone, marble and porcelain, which create really beautiful hard landscape palettes, so we need to plan for where and how these can be utilised.

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What are the most important considerations?

We design holistically, ensuring the outdoor spaces are also connected to primary living areas. There needs to be a flow from indoors to out and we need to consider the orientation, natural light and sightline. What plants will work best in this space? Do we need to shield certain aspects? Do we need to lower the viewpoint? How can we celebrate the view?

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What project has you excited about garden design right now?

I am currently working on an incredible outdoor terrace for a new high-rise penthouse apartment, creating a ‘sky garden’ in a space with 360-degree views. There are many inherent challenges, for example, the clients want a natural lawn, but there’ll be amazing benefits. This is a high-end, million-dollar-plus project with so many different considerations, including structural, engineering, logistics and access.

Where do you draw your inspiration?

As a designer, I’m always looking for inspiration. For rooftop spaces, I’m inspired by what’s going on in New York. They are really reclaiming their rooftops and utilising what was previously ‘dead’ spaces, reactivating them and creating beautiful garden spaces. The Highline in the Meatpacking District is an amazing example of how creating a usable public green space in the middle of the city on top of an abandoned railway overpass can add so much beauty and value to the environment.

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For more information on Jack Merlo’s incredible portfolio, check out the studio Instagram: @jackmerlolandscapedesign