Douglas Coltart of Viridarium, an award-winning garden designer and landscape architect, was chosen to design the New Lanark roof garden. From the first moment he saw the roof-space, which extends to around 900 square metres, Douglas recognised that this commission presented a unique challenge and a wonderful opportunity. He began by sketching out rough proposals and ideas about how the garden could be developed, and these were gradually refined in discussion with New Lanark Conservation Trust. Should the design be rectilinear, reflecting the austere classical architecture of the historic buildings? Or could the circular form of a water-wheel provide a motif for the lay-out of the garden? What should be the balance between hard and soft landscaping? How could it be planned so as to provide interest and texture all year round? How would it follow in New Lanark’s long tradition of gardens and landscapes, and reflect Robert Owen’s inspirational ideas about the relationship between environment and healthy, happy communities?
In the event, the design went through a number of phases before being finalised. Some of these changes were dictated by planning and Listed Buildings constraints. Care had to be taken to ensure that the garden would not present any risk to the original fabric of the historic A-Listed mill building, so careful weight and loading calculations were undertaken. It must be safe for visitors of all ages. Most importantly, it was agreed that the garden should not be visible from ground-level, with, for example, no plants or pergolas above the level of the parapet. Therefore the garden can only be seen from high levels. It is a garden in the sky.
The final design selected can best be appreciated from the viewing platform. Its pattern of gentle curves and swirls, reflect both the course of the river far below, and the turning arc of the great water-wheels which once powered the cotton-mills. Seating areas have been integrated, where visitors can enjoy a few moments contemplating the tapestry of plants and shrubs, enjoying the sight of the light reflecting on the water, the sounds of insects, birds and perhaps children’s voices, breathing in the fragrance of the plants which perfumes the air, and pondering on the quotations from Robert Owen’s writings which are incorporated into the design. The sandstone paving was chosen to complement the colour-tones and textures of New Lanark’s beautiful historic buildings, which were built from local sandstone, quarried nearby in the Clyde gorge.