Grow your own leafy green Auckland

The practice of adorning buildings with plants has been around for a long time. Modern green roofs were pioneered in Germany in the 1960s, and vertical planting has been around in different forms for centuries.

Most notably in the last two decades green architecture, also known as ‘building integrated planting’ (BIP) has expanded and diversified. Today, green architecture is recognised for far more than beautification and aesthetic pleasure. It’s widely considered a vital practice for building sustainable cities.

A green city is a cooler city

Planting in urban areas reduces the ‘urban heat island’ effect, which is caused by hard surfaces, such as concrete and asphalt absorbing energy from sunlight and then radiating it as heat into the surrounding air and buildings.

Planting on roofs helps to cool cities down as the plants absorb much of the energy instead – using the sunlight to fuel their own growth while reducing the excess heat emitted into the environment. They also provide a layer of insulation to the building below, which can reduce indoor heat fluctuations throughout the year.

Vertical planting can provide shade for building occupants, lowering indoor temperatures during summer.  It’s a great way to reduce your air conditioning power bills.


Li Ka Shing Library, Singapore Management University. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


Cities including Chicago and Tokyo have turned towards green roofs as a way to lower temperatures in their urban areas. Chicago City Hall Green Roof. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


Cleaner, calmer waters

Auckland is a city of water – not just our rivers and harbours – Auckland has a subtropical climate that includes high rainfall levels year-round. The increase in impervious surfaces, such as concrete, means that Auckland’s stormwater infrastructure is frequently overloaded, which can result in flooding and contamination. Even normal rainfall causes significant levels of pollutants, such as oil and sediment, to enter our waterways.

Building integrated planting, such as green roofs, can capture rain and hold the water until it evaporates. This helps to sustain the plants, while at the same time reducing the load on stormwater infrastructure.


Rainwater retention in a green roof. Source: Urban Water, City of Melbourne.



In cities, buildings and streets have largely replaced the natural environment. Building integrated planting can help even out this imbalance, by providing habitats and green links for birds, insects and plants.

Several urban developments in London have created versions of green roofs known as ‘brownroofs’ or ‘rubble roofs’ to help make up for the loss of vacant urban land, which was the habitat of the black redstart – an endangered bird. These roofs have also become home to many insects, including rare and highly localized species.



Laban Dance Centre ‘rubble roof’, London, home to the rare ‘black redstart’. Source:


Bees in particular are facing declining populations worldwide. Planting on and around buildings can provide food sources to support local bees. Auckland is aiming to be the world’s most bee-friendly city, so look out for some bee events happening near you.


A honey bee extracting nectar.


In the meantime, here are some links to information about bee-friendly planting:

Waikato Bee Keepers

Annabel Langbein Bee Friendly Tips

Bee Friend in Wellington

Green Urban Living NZ


Bee friendly plants! Source:


Urban agriculture

There has been increased awareness of the benefits of growing your own food locally, as more people are living in a compact urban environment. Urban agriculture and edible roof gardens are becoming popular around the world.

These can range from container gardens on a roof or terrace, to larger projects run by schools and community groups, and even gardens big enough to supply restaurants and supermarkets.

Edible planting doesn’t have to be confined to roofs either. The University of Washington in Seattle, has created a vertical Edible Green Screen (alongside a Biodiversity Green Wall), which includes hops and kiwifruit.

Watch a video about the UW projects.


Green walls at the University of Washington, Seattle.


Greening the city

Softening and beautifying a city by providing more green space is still a highly valued outcome for building integrated planting. This can be public or private green space [examples: Canary Wharf above tube station, urban roof gardens], or non-accessible green space which still provides aesthetic and wellbeing benefits.

In cities with limited space for public gardens, green walls and vertical gardens are important as they are easier to view. People can often walk up to green walls and appreciate them – even touch them – without horizontal public space needing to be provided. They look stunning from a distance and can revitalise a tired-looking building or streetscape.

For a more in-depth look at one type of vertical garden system, watch this interview with Patrick Blanc, who has been creating them in Paris and around the world for many years.


In Barcelona, the green roof and green wall concepts have been merged to create a 21-meter high structure of green balconies. Source:


Do it yourself

It’s not just about big developments – green architecture can be a grassroots movement, and each small contribution adds up to a larger whole.

Building or renovating? Look at opportunities to integrate planting.




How green is your shed? Consider opportunities to plant a rooftop garden!  Source: The Green Roof Centre.


Article by Elisabeth Laird

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4 Responses to “Grow your own leafy green Auckland”

  1. Jan Ramp Says:

    The Auckland Botanic Gardens have a sustainability trail with information about green roofs and other solutions, worth a visit if you want to find out more.


  2. Patty Jovel Says:

    Thanks for the heads up, Jan!


  3. Elisabeth Liard Fan Group Says:

    Kia ora Liz,
    This article looks incredible. You’re amazing. Much wow. I’m inspired. Keep up the good work.


  4. Hannah Says:

    Green roofs are a fantastic way to use the ‘fifth wall’ of a building, this is a huge space that currently is being wasted on a lot of buildings where a space to relax and do good for the environment could be created. In a city such as Auckland where space is quickly becoming a sparse commodity green roofs will become a valuable asset to any building specially in the city where green space can be harder to come by.


Leave a Reply to Jan Ramp