What are the best species for a living roof in a rural Welsh home?

12 June 2024

When it comes to eco-friendly design, a green roof, or a living roof, stands out as an innovative solution. A green roof is essentially a roof covered by plants, offering a multitude of environmental benefits. This ingenious design is not just aesthetically pleasing but also has an immense impact on the energy efficiency of a building. However, when choosing to build a green roof, one of the most crucial decisions you need to make is selecting the best plant species. If you're in a rural Welsh home, this decision becomes even more critical due to the unique climate and soil conditions. But don't worry, we are here to help you make the best choice for your green roof project.

Choosing the Right Green Roof System

Before you can start planting, it's vital to understand the two primary green roof systems – intensive and extensive.

Intensive green roof systems are thick and can support a wide variety of plants, including shrubs and trees. However, they require a sturdy building structure due to their weight and the necessity for irrigation and maintenance. On the other hand, extensive green roofs are lighter, with a thinner layer of soil. They're typically self-sustaining and require minimal maintenance, making them suitable for most house roofs.

For a rural Welsh home, you might want to consider an extensive green roof system. It's a more feasible option due to its minimal maintenance requirements and the ability to withstand Wales' often rainy climate.

Best Plants for a Welsh Green Roof

Given the extensive system's shallow soil depth, the best options are hardy, low-growing plants that can tolerate the Welsh climate. Let's explore some of the best species you can choose for your green roof in a rural Welsh home.


Sedums, or stonecrops, are a popular choice for green roofs. They're low-growing, succulent plants that can thrive in shallow soil and full sun. Moreover, their ability to store water in their fleshy leaves allows them to withstand dry periods. Sedums come in various colours, making your green roof visually appealing year-round.


A wildflower roof can be a stunning addition to your home, enhancing its aesthetic charm while providing a habitat for wildlife. The Welsh poppy, Foxglove, and Sea Thrift are all native to Wales and can thrive on a green roof. However, it's important to note that wildflowers might require a little more maintenance than sedums, but the breathtaking results are worth the effort.


Mosses are another great choice for a rural Welsh green roof. They can thrive in the humid, rainy climate and require little to no maintenance. Plus, mosses can act as a sponge, absorbing and retaining water, reducing the risk of runoff.

Considerations When Building a Green Roof

Designing and building a green roof is not just about selecting the right plants. There are other factors to consider to ensure the success of your green roof project.

Roof Structure and Load Capacity

Green roofs, especially intensive ones, add significant weight to a building. The roof structure must be strong enough to support the extra weight of plants, soil, and water. If you're unsure, consult with a structural engineer before starting your green roof project.

Water and Drainage System

Proper water management is critical in a green roof design. The roof should have a good drainage system to prevent water-logging, which can harm the plants and damage the roof structure. Also, consider installing an irrigation system for dry periods, especially if you're opting for an intensive green roof.

Insulation and Waterproofing

A well-insulated and waterproofed roof is essential to protect your home from the elements and prevent water damage. This layer should sit below the soil and plants, protecting the roof structure and the interior of your home.

The Thatched Roof: A Traditional Alternative

For those looking for a more traditional design, a thatched roof can be an attractive alternative. Thatched roofs have been a part of rural Welsh architecture for centuries, providing a timeless, rustic appeal. They offer excellent insulation and are made from renewable materials, making them an eco-friendly option. However, they require professional installation and regular maintenance to ensure their longevity.

In conclusion, creating a green roof for your rural Welsh home is a rewarding project that offers both aesthetic and environmental benefits. With careful planning and the right choice of plants, you can transform your roof into a beautiful, sustainable living space.

Semi-Intensive Green Roofs: A Compromise Between Extensive and Intensive Systems

If you're looking to combine the benefits of both extensive and intensive green roof systems, a semi-intensive green roof could be the perfect solution. This system is essentially a hybrid, with a moderately deep growing medium that can support a wider range of plants than an extensive system, but with less weight and maintenance requirements than an intensive system.

The thickness of the soil in a semi-intensive system is usually between 4 to 6 inches, allowing for hardier and taller plants, but not as diverse as the ones you'd find on an intensive system. These might include herbs, grasses, and flowering plants native to Wales, such as the vibrant Wood Anemone or the delicate Welsh Poppy.

Semi-intensive green roofs also provide excellent insulation and reduce rainwater runoff, similar to their extensive and intensive counterparts. They require a moderate amount of watering and occasional weeding, making them a relatively low-maintenance choice. It's important to remember that while a semi-intensive system is lighter than an intensive green roof, it still adds weight to your building. As such, your roof's structure and load capacity should be assessed before installation.

Green Walls: Vertical Expansion of Your Living Roof

Green walls, also known as living walls, are an extension of the green roof concept. They involve the use of vertical surfaces, such as the sides of a building, to grow plants. This innovative design not only optimizes the available space but also adds a unique aesthetic value to your home.

Just like green roofs, green walls can be intensive, semi-intensive, or extensive, depending on the depth of the growing medium and the plant diversity. They offer similar benefits to green roofs, such as improved insulation, reduced stormwater runoff, and an enriched habitat for wildlife.

A common method of creating a green wall is through the use of modular green wall systems. These are essentially panels that can be attached to your wall, with pockets or containers for planting. You can mix and match different plant species to create a stunning vertical garden. If you're considering a green wall for your rural Welsh home, hardy species like Ivy, Ferns, and Wallflowers are excellent choices, as they can withstand the varying Welsh climate conditions.

In terms of maintenance, green walls require regular watering, especially during dry periods, and occasional pruning to keep the plants in check.

A Greener Tomorrow: Conclusion

There are numerous ways to incorporate eco-friendly design elements into your home, and a living roof is undoubtedly one of the best choices. Whether you opt for an extensive, intensive, or semi-intensive green roof, or even decide to extend the concept to green walls, you're not only enhancing your home's aesthetic appeal but also contributing to a cleaner, greener environment.

Remember to take into consideration factors such as your roof's structure and load capacity, a proper water and drainage system, and insulation and waterproofing when planning your green roof or wall project. And don't forget, while creating a living roof may require an initial investment of time and resources, the long-term benefits to your home and the environment are immeasurable.

Finally, whether you choose sedums, wildflowers, mosses, or a combination of these for your green roof, or decide to stick to the traditional thatched roof, you're embracing an eco-friendly approach to home design that's both beautiful and sustainable. A green roof or wall can truly transform your rural Welsh home into a living, breathing part of the natural landscape.

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