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How To Create A Balcony Garden

Wednesday, 23rd June 2010

You can transform even the tiniest of balconies or terraces into your very own urban paradise, with a bit of planning and care. The trick is to do a good assessment of your growing conditions - sun, wind and accessibility - and design potted planting to suit them. While potted plants do demand more attention than those in a grounded garden, they'll reward you with a cleaner environment and the perfect spot to escape from the city madness.

Container Gardens

Containers and pots are your new best friends if you’re planning a balcony or terrace garden. Talk to your nursery about the size and conditions of your outside area so they can help you choose suitable plants and containers.

Many city-dwellers end up with a mass of tiny pots on their balconies as the thought of carrying large pots up several flights of stairs can be too much to bear. But larger pots will add drama to your outside setting – the trick is to source lightweight ones or ask your nursery to do the heavy-lifting and planting for you.

Always look for containers with good drainage, and add a few pebbles to the bottom for extra drainage. Ensure pots are large enough to accommodate the root mass, and tall enough to suit the scale of your arrangement.

The Right Mix

Start with the best quality soil you can afford - it’s not worth stinting here or you’ll end up with brick-like soil that won’t keep even the hardiest plants alive. Remember that plants in containers dry out fast, so you’ll need to water and fertilise regularly.

Fancy adding something tasty to your dinner straight from the garden? Edible plants can be both decorative and incredibly handy, and plenty of varieties can be grown in pots, such as herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers and gourmet lettuces. If the conditions are right, you could even consider some smaller-growing fruit trees. But keep in mind they’ll need around six hours of sunlight a day.

If you prefer decorative plants, choose a mix of seasonals and perennials so that you don’t suffer from a seasonal glut. What works best? Daisies, geraniums, pansies and roses suit very sunny spots, as do hardy palms. For partially-shaded areas camellias, hydrangeas, busy lizzies and bay trees are just some of your options.

What’s Your Style?

Before you start, think about the look you want to achieve. Do you fancy a country cottage style that will change with the seasons or something more architectural? Simplicity is key in a very small space – you don’t want to clutter your garden and risk turning it into a tropical jungle. Focus on a single pot or a pair of pots, perhaps filled with an architecturally-stunning topiary, or planted with a mixture of different plants to create a mini-garden.

On the other hand, grouping potted plants of different sizes can give the sense of a real, grounded garden, and also provide privacy from neighbours.

Set the Scene

Is it a sunny or shady spot? Pay careful attention to the conditions of your urban garden – choosing the right plants for the conditions is essential. Balcony gardens generally receive sunlight from one direction, and are shaded the rest of the time. North and north-easterly facing balconies will receive the most sun during the day.

Is it a windy area? Even a balcony two floors above ground will be affected by wind, so this is not the spot for lightweight containers or lots of hanging plants. As a rule, the more sheltered you are from the wind, the greater your planting choices.

Think Vertical

Mix up the heights of your plants for visual impact: low-level beds, raised beds and pots of different shapes and sizes. Using the wall space for a trellis to train creepers or vines will create a strong visual backdrop, while a wall-mounted water treatment adds drama. 

Don’t Forget The Details

Always check your strata guidelines before making any significant changes to your outside area.

Don’t forget flooring – think about where you’ll be walking on your balcony or terrace, and make sure your planting doesn’t get in the way. Unsightly concrete surfaces can be inexpensively concealed with gravel (roughly 50kg per sq m). Or, consider wooden decking – one of the biggest trends right now is for narrow decking laid in a mixed vertical and horizontal pattern.

Is there room for seating? Opt for lightweight seating that can easily be moved inside when it rains, and make sure it’s the right size for your outside area. For additional seating, use raised beds with cushions covered in outdoor fabric.

Add task lighting for barbequing or dining, and softer mood lighting to create a beautiful view from the inside out.


Georgia Madden

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Comment from Glassman on Monday, 01st May 2017

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