Apartment

How to turn your balcony into a green oasis

No backyard? No problem. Here’s how to turn a balcony into a relaxing urban jungle.

For the less-than-green-thumbed among us, the thought of creating a garden of our own can be daunting. Even a relatively small-scale balcony garden seems beyond reach. But getting your apartment terrace or balcony to look like an oasis of green isn’t necessarily as hard as you think. These 10 tips will have you well on the way to growing an urban patch of perfection.

1. Do your research

Before anything else, it’s essential to check the load-bearing capacity of your balcony with your body corporate or building supervisor. Once you know that, look at your balcony’s orientation – which direction does it face? How much sun does it get every day? Is it really windy? These factors will all determine plant choice.

2. Consider how you’ll use the space

Really think about what you want to use the area for. Is it primarily a quiet spot to enjoy a cup of coffee and take in the view? Or do you want to entertain lots of friends? If it’s the former, you might only need a small wrought-iron table and chairs; for the latter, consider an extendable table and folding chairs that you can stow when they’re not being used.

3. Think about continuity

The key to creating great indoor-outdoor spaces is continuity. ”An outdoor space should have some correlation to your interior, especially if it is very near or connected to the indoors,” says Terrace Outdoor Living’s Paul Joseph Hopper. If your interiors are minimal and neutral-toned, so your balcony garden should be, too.

4. Start small

If gardening is new to you, take baby steps. “Don’t undermine your intentions by starting too big as too many plants and the maintenance required can overwhelm a new gardener,” says garden writer Isabelle Palmer.

5. Keep it simple

Don’t be tempted to clutter your outdoor area. “Before you know it, your little courtyard or balcony is crowded and messy, too hard to maintain and not inviting,” says Hopper. Limiting your colour palette will help, too. Palmer recommends using no more than three shades for your plants, or different tones of one colour, to keep the space looking serene. (This doesn’t include green, of course.)

6. Add green drama

Hopper favours plants with lots of sculptural appeal. His current favourites? “I love the big, beautiful leaves of a Monstera deliciosa or Strelitzia nicolae, the sculptural branches of a frangipani and the super-trendy Ficus lyrata,” he says. If you want a garden to pop with colour all year round, you’ll need to add some annuals (plants that last for a year) or perennials (plants that live for two or more years) to your crop.

7. Go vertical

Vertical gardens have been trending for several years, and with good reason. Not only do they look striking, vertical gardens also take up very little floor space – making them ideal for balconies and terraces. Vertical garden hardware is readily available, and what you plant is only limited by your imagination.

8. Choose larger pots

Once you’ve checked your load-bearing capacity, remember that larger pots not only look more dramatic, they’re better for your plants, too. Research has found that doubling pot size makes plants grown 40 per cent larger. “Aesthetically, the proportions of bigger pots look better as well,” Palmer says. Make sure your pots have appropriately sized saucers too, to limit water damage to your balcony’s surface.

9. Light it up

Nothing adds atmosphere to an outdoor space more than lighting. Creating an inviting night-time ambience is also dead simple and inexpensive. “Candles and suspended lanterns are always pretty and we love ropes of LED lights which you can weave through branches or hang from beams,” says Hopper.

10. Dress your pots

You can add style to your potted plants with a layer of “top dressing” – anything from sculptural pebbles or pieces of slate to more rustic wood bark chips. It will unify the look of your pots, and also helps to stop water evaporating from the soil’s surface.

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