How a Family in Żabbar turned their Rooftop into a Garden

rooftop garden: underneath the pergola

In one of our very first articles, we provided a brief, 7 step guide on how to convert a flat rooftop into a garden. Two weeks ago, our team got to visit a family in Malta who has done this, and we were blown away. This is the story:

Missing their rural, green, country life back in the south of France, Theresa Bailey, a florist and artist, teamed up with her husband Philip, a builder who’s a keen do-it-yourself enthusiast, to transform the rooftop of their house in Żabbar into the perfect garden for Malta. Their tools? Recycled wood, pallets, old beams, and a couple of nifty, affordable gadgets from Amazon.

rooftop garden: pergola side view

“We always had gardens wherever we lived abroad. We wanted to do something that made us feel like we are in a garden in Malta as well, something as low-maintenance as possible. Theresa designed it, and I started building it.” Philip explains to me.

Was it difficult to get the material for all of this?

“Most of the material is recycled. Some of it actually came from our landlord. We asked the owner if we could do this, and he actually offered us to take spare wood he had in his garage. All the stuff is movable. so if we decided to move out, we can take everything with us. It hasn’t really cost us any money, everything we built mainly involved reconfiguring palates into pots of different sizes. Then, we added wheels underneath each so that we can move it around whenever we need.

rooftop garden: pots with wheels

“We still have some things to do, the irrigation system to finish, and we would like to put a hot tub.”

Was the irrigation system difficult to set-up?

“All it takes is a pipe, timer, and drippers. I find it quite enjoyable to water the plants myself, but an irrigation system always works wonders once you start to scale up.”

I asked him about the plants themselves, but Philip cordially pointed it out to me that this was Theresa’s territory.

“Theresa is a plant expert – a trained florist who has been designing and creating gardens for years, but when it came to choosing which plants to add, we had to experiment a bit, because it’s Malta – it has a different weather than what we’re used to.”

table underneath pergola

This is where Theresa chimes into the conversation: “I’ve designed gardens in the UK and in France, but in Malta, you can’t have a wishlist for plants. You have to respect what grows, look around at neighbours, and learn. I worked with low maintenance, I worked with plants that repel mosquitos. I’ve grown lemongrass using hydroponics. Their scent is wonderful.”

Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil by using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent.

rooftopgarden: beginning without vegetable garden
Before the garden was set up
The vegetable garden
The (almost) finished result

“This is the Madeira-vine,” The plant which she refers to has bright green, heart-shaped, fleshy shiny leaves 4–13 cm long. “it can be invasive, and it is a heavy plant, but here it will form a whole screen. We want to grow it around the wooden fence we made to separate the vegetable area from the rest of the rooftop.”

I follow them into the section of the garden where they grow vegetables. They’ve brought asparagus from the UK, and in November time, they will cut it back to the soil to replant the vegetables that thrive in winter.

“We’ve had chillis, radish, onions, ginger – and we’ve got to use the stuff in the kitchen, and also give some to our daughter.”

“We use LED lights all around the lounge area, and we’ve grown rosemary because I love doing topiary. In addition, you can cut it and use it when you’re having a BBQ. Also? Mosquitoes hate it, which is always a bonus in Malta.”

“This is what we like, making Malta greener. And the bees! We’ve been getting bees all the time hovering around our flowers. They won’t sting you – they ignore us completely. It’s quite beautiful.”

bees collect pollen from the flowers
A bee collects pollen from one of their flowers.

“We thought of tiling the roof’s floor, but I am not sure of that. We like the rustic feel of keeping it as is, we’re not afraid of a bit of dirt. Having been brought up in the country, with fields, running barefoot in meadows. We just added roof coating to reflect the heat, but that’s about it.”

If you’d like to read more on how to coat your rooftop, check out this article.

What about the pergola? I ask.

“We placed a concrete block on the floor to provide support for the Pergola’s legs, and then lined it with wooden planks, the concrete block isn’t attached to the ground, so we haven’t altered the ground in any way.”

rooftopgarden - pre pergola
The roof garden, before the Pergola was constructed

 rooftop garden: underneath the pergola

“Our grandchildren absolutely love it up here, they play games and run around. They have lots of fun.”

Were you always planning on doing this when you moved to Malta?

“Not at all. We were unfamiliar with the flat rooftops popular in Malta. One day we came up here.” By, here she means the rooftop – we sit around the table underneath the pergola.

“Philip was working on something, and he asked me ‘What would you do up here?’ I started sketching, and a year later, we’re almost done. A rustic, recycled, environmentally friendly roof – as much as we can possibly make it.”

rooftop garden: lounge

“Since we started, other households in our neighbourhood are starting to do the same. It’s fun to see! It’d be great if all the neighbourhood greened up their rooftops, it’d be quite a sight.”

Do you think this is something other homeowners in Malta can easily adopt?

“For many homeowners in Malta, we’ve noticed that the rooftop acts as the washroom. We didn’t want to rely on a dryer, so we came up with a solution. We bought a retractable line you can hang clothes on from Amazon. Usually, hung wires get rusty and break over time because of the sun; with this small device we overcame this issue because the wires now aren’t constantly exposed.”

rooftop garden: retractable wire
The retractable wire holder, which they bought on Amazon

Theresa and Philip are happy to talk with anyone who would like some advice on how to do up their own rooftop. Homeowners in Malta interested in getting in touch or would like to ask questions can comment on this article, or send them a private message.

We’d like to thank Theresa and Philip Bailey for showing us around their lovely rooftop garden, and we hope they inspire more homeowners to follow in their footsteps.

Do you have a rooftop you’re using as a garden? Comment below!