Photography by Alan Shortall

Produced by Susan Victoria

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When Marguerite Gluck of Marguerite Gardens was asked to create landscaping for a River North penthouse, she was intrigued by the unusual site-it’s not every rooftop deck that has the Merchandise Mart right across the street. Not to mention magnificent city views in other directions.

With the decking, an artificial-turf putting green (the whim of a golf-loving husband), built-in greenery containers, and an irrigation system already in place, Gluck’s role was to design plantings that would stand up to the direct sun and wind-and look good doing it. “Plants do different things in different settings, and it’s often kind of a surprise,” she says. “You have to embrace that.”

Large-leafed trees, for example, have trouble in windy spots; the leaves tear and look bedraggled. Grasses and plants with sturdy stems, on the other hand, can be quite happy on a roof, as can evergreens, such as the Mountbatten junipers Gluck planted here.

Similarly, tree size must be reined in on a rooftop. “You wouldn’t want to put a parkway tree up there,” she says. “We try to use things that will mature to a size that’s appropriate for the container, that will live from season to season and not have to be replaced.”

For these clients, a married couple, Gluck replaced most of the existing plantings and added others in fiberglass pots (“terra cotta doesn’t fare very well in our climate”), creating essentially a perennial garden with annuals added for color. The clients have made different requests each year. Last summer the flowers were mostly white and the garden had a more architectural feel than in previous seasons, with fewer kinds of plants and more repetition.

The wife of the couple likes to grow vegetables; a raised bed works nicely for her lettuce, herbs, and tomatoes. She even keeps apple trees and a few crabapples.

Upkeep, as with all gardens, is an ongoing issue. “There’s no such thing as a no-maintenance garden,” Gluck says. “It’s a question I get asked a lot, and the answer is no.” On this terrace, an irrigation system waters the built-in planters, while some of the freestanding pots are watered by hand.

Winterizing is a matter of cutting back the dead annuals and herbaceous perennials, pruning shrubs for shape, and composting. In the spring, the top five or so inches of soil in each bed get replaced with more compost or fresh soil, and voilà!-the garden is ready to please its owners, their guests, and horticulturally minded voyeurs in the Mart for another year.


Roof Planting Basics

John West of JW Landscapes shares his expertise on the how-tos of going green

Tough guys
Wind- and sun-resistant plants and shrubs

1) Festuca glauca (grass)
2) Miscanthus sinesis (grass)
3) Sedum telephium a.k.a. Atropurpureum (hardy succulent)


1) Canna “Tropicana”
2) Calibrachoa
3) Plectranthus madagascariensis (variegated mintleaf)


Short and stout
Small, sturdy trees

1) Ginkgo biloba
2) Chionanthus virginicus (white fringe tree)
3) Ulmus galbra (dwarf elm)


Weight watchers
Materials to lighten the load

1) Styrofoam – means less soil is required and allows roots to penetrate once the soil seeps into it
2) Zinc containers – make for easy handling and carrying; affordable; contemporary-looking

-Katherine Tresley



Buyer’s Guide

Plantings and freestanding fiberglass containers


  • Oak Park Country Club Pro Shop, 2001 Thatcher Rd., River Grove, (708) 456-7600

Striped tumblers, napkins, martini glasses:

  • CB2, 800 W. North Ave., (312) 787-8329

Throw pillows, hurricanes, candles, square red tray, napkins, votive candles, pitcher, glasses:

  • Crate & Barrel, 646 N. Michigan Ave., (312) 787-5900