Tips to transform your balcony

If your balcony is not being used to lounge, plant or dine in, it’s time to rethink your potential miniature Garden of Eden.

IT’S ALL IN THE PLANNING

Consider aspect, shelter, shade and privacy and draw up a sketch plan. I use drawing programmes such as SketchUp and Vectorworks, but a sharp pencil, sheet of paper, scale ruler and measuring tape will do just fine.

REIGN IT IN

If it’s The Good Life you are seeking and a balcony is your only means to achieve it, forget the hens and patches of earth nestling huge pumpkins. Consider growing up in a garden wall or tower.

Think herbs and leaves, perhaps even some potted citrus trees. Start small with a few strong ideas that make the most of your balcony’s potential.

Planting a bottle tower garden on my balcony at my studio

Planting a bottle tower garden on my balcony at my studio

PLANTS

Balconies are often more exposed to the elements however with the right plants, you can transform your balcony into an inviting space that thrives all year round.

Understanding which plants will tolerate these conditions will ensure the success of your balcony garden. (I’ll be listing and covering some of these plants in more detail next week).

Try to keep a base of evergreens for all year round greenery and hold back on including a rainbow of different coloured plants. Pick a theme of one or two colours other than green and stick to it.

Potting up some lemon thyme

Potting up some lemon thyme


FURNITURE

If you are downsizing from a garden to a balcony you may need to start again. Cluttering a balcony will always make it feel smaller.

I am about to move and when I dream up the narrow outside space, I’ve imagined squeezing in a dining table with seating for 6, a water feature, a corten steel firepit and oh how lovely it would be to lie back in a hammock from time to time. Of course, when I come to my senses and really consider the 1.59m x 5.62m space, I’d be lucky to comfortably seat 2.

Invest in the best quality outdoor furniture that your budget will allow or consider built-in furniture such as bench seating with storage, as this is a great way to maximise space. Look for lightweight pieces, UV-resistant outdoor fabrics and furnishings that suit the scale of the space you have.


POTS

Really consider weight when choosing pots. Avoid heavy terracotta and concrete and opt instead for lighter plastic or resin containers.

Unfortunately, quality comes at a premium, but I’d encourage you to invest in a few fabulous pots, rather than filling your balcony with cheap plastic varieties. Aim to fill them with a lightweight compost formula. If you have large pots, put them on wheels so you can move them around to suit seasonal conditions.

For the more adventurous, liberate plants from their pots and hang lots of kokedama on your balcony. They provide privacy and are an interesting take on a green wall.

 
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If you would like to design your own garden in the sky and make the most of your balcony, join my Balcony & Terrace Design Workshop

 
 

Small Garden Design Ideas From RHS Chelsea 2019

DOUBLE-DECKER GARDENS

Extending your garden up or down is a great way of making more space in small gardens and takes the idea of a green roof one step further.

The Ikea and Tom Dixon garden entitled Gardening Will Save The World combines a mix of traditional planting methods and futuristic horticulture. The leisure and relaxation element of the garden is elevated, while the area below does the hard work of growing salads, mushrooms and herbs under specialist grow lighting.

 
Photo: © rhs.org.uk

Photo: © rhs.org.uk

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MOSS

Another fantastic example of a double-decker garden was Ishihara Kazuyuki’s Green Switch. A garden that represents the space we inhabit when we ‘switch off’ from the stresses of contemporary urban life. Ishihara Kazuyuki is a master of moss and displays exquisite mossy spheres in lush piles. Moss also appeared in the RHS Back To Nature Garden and in the Welcome To Yorkshire Garden.

 
Photo: © rhs.org.uk

Photo: © rhs.org.uk

 
 
Photo: © rhs.org.uk

Photo: © rhs.org.uk

 

MAKE A WILDLIFE SANCTUARY

Even in a small town garden Finnish designer Taina Suonio shows that you can create a sanctuary for yourself as well as a wide range of pollinators. In her garden, The Roots in Finland Kyrö Garden she draws them in with a fragrant and diverse range of perennials and flowering shrubs.

If you’re looking for a new way of dividing up your space, try building a log wall like the one in Paul Hervey-Brookes’ Art of Viking garden. Not only is it relatively cheap and pretty to look at, it will act like a giant bug hotel, too.

 
Photo: © rhs.org.uk

Photo: © rhs.org.uk

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND IMPACT

Chelsea is waking up to the issue of sustainability and how gardeners can have a more positive impact on their environment. A welcome move, but I would still like to see more of a focus on the materials we bring into our gardens and how they are implemented.

The planting in The Harmonious Garden of Life, designed by Laurélie de la Salle, promotes environmental awareness and responds to the threat of global warming by using plants that require less water and even enrich the soil naturally such as clover. It also includes plants that purify the air; Bamboo absorbs high amounts of CO2 and Ivy is one of the best plants for absorbing pollutants from the air.

 
Photo: © rhs.org.uk

Photo: © rhs.org.uk

 

GREEN ON BLACK

The huge burnt-oak timber sculptures created by craftsman Johnny Woodford for Andy Sturgeon's M&G garden. Staining a fence black is a bold move but in the right setting, it can look superb as it causes the boundary to recede. It also makes an excellent backdrop for planting particularly the popular shades of green on display including Equisetum, Restios, Nothofagus antartica, Carpinus betulus, Gunnera killipiana, Epiolobium, Arisaema and Disproposis bodinieri.

 
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Chamomile Lawn

I’m not a massive fan of grassy lawns. They are tricky in cities where you’re considered lucky to have a patch larger than a few square meters. Too tiny to invest in a mower, after a few hacking attempts with shears, said lawn inevitably falls into a weedy tangle.⁣ ⁣

For a fuss-free, blossoming alternative try sowing a chamomile lawn. That packet of chamomile tea bags, hidden at the back of a kitchen cupboard, is the source of thousands of seeds that can remain perfectly sound for years past their sell-by date, providing pretty, bee-friendly flowers throughout spring and summer.⁣ ⁣

Follow my tips for growing a chamomile lawn from an old tea bag and you’ll soon be lying back in the softness of a “lawn” laced with tiny daisy-like flowers, breathing in the aroma redolent of sweet apples. 🌼🍎🌸🐝

  1. Sow chamomile seeds in the spring, after all danger of frost has passed and when no heavy rains are expected.

  2. To get started, find a patch of bare, well-drained soil in a sunny location.

  3. Preparing the area for seeding a chamomile lawn really is the same as for a grass lawn. Dig the area, remove all weeds and as many stones as you can. A long-handled cultivator removes most weeds, but some may require hand-pulling.

  4. Dig in well-rotted organic compost into of the weeded area, and work it into the top 15cm of soil using a spade. Rake the area smooth.

  5. Rip open bags of (unused) chamomile tea and scatter over the surface of the raked soil. I bag gives me around 30-50 shoots.

  6. Lightly tamp the seed into the ground with the back of the rake. This helps to hold the seed in place until it germinates and starts to take root.

  7. Water the seeded lawn lightly immediately after planting. Keep the area evenly moist until seedlings appear. Germination will start within about two weeks.

  8. Thin chamomile seedlings to 15cm apart when they are about 10cm tall. This allows each plant to develop a healthy root system as it spreads to fill in the area.

  9. Enjoy the bees, the beauty of the flowers and endless cups of tea all summer long.