Let your balcony garden come alive
By Hosea Omole
| Jul 24th 2014 | 3 min read
For many urban dwellers who live in apartments, the balcony provides the primary space where you can enjoy the outdoor environment. A little effort can transform your balcony from a dead space into a worthwhile breakout where you can sit and relax for hours on end.
The typical balcony has at least some space for greenery and conditions for a few plants to thrive. Depending on its orientation, a balcony may be sheltered or exposed to strong winds and sunshine.
In either case, you will want to choose what you grow in your balcony very carefully. Here are a few tips to help you breathe some life into your balcony.
Whether you prefer a collection of container-grown ornamental for beauty or culinary herbs for your kitchen, you will need to access the prevailing conditions in your balcony a little deeper.
Light is very critical. All plants need light, hence the less light you receive in your balcony, the more you will need to narrow your options. The good news, however, is that a good number of indoor plants will find the conditions in a low-light balcony very liveable.
Exposure to wind is the other important consideration. Exposed balconies will tend to dry out very quickly, hence plant selected must be able to withstand not just the physical turbulence from strong winds but also drier conditions.
You also need to consider the amount of space you have at your disposal. A balcony is never large enough. Think vertical. Hanging planters are often excellent, especially when planted with vines and selected vegetables. You could also plant in specially designed shelves, raised beds and handrail mounted planters.
Go for plants that have multiple functions. A good choice, for instance, will provide beauty, screen for privacy and fill the balcony with tantalising scents. Also give priority to tidy, long-blooming plants that grow to size quickly then stay in scale without constant pruning. Avoid plants that have a short season of interest, a season of excess seediness or a coarse appearance.
Design elements assume greater importance in the balcony. Colour clashes you could live with in a border at the back of your yard will dizzy you in the balcony. Form and texture, too, are accentuated, especially when the plants are brought closer to eye level in raised beds and hanging baskets.
Go for cool colours such as blue or violet to create a serene environment. These colours will also tend to recede from the viewer and make the space appear larger. Extensive use of warm colours, on the other hand, will tend to make the space appear smaller since they advance towards the viewer. Don’t hesitate, however, to use them sparingly as accents.
For a balanced design, combine upright plants with spreading and trailing ground covers proportionately. Arrange the plants so that the tallest ones take the centre positions on the planters, followed by the shorter ones along the edges.
If the planter is against a wall or at a corner, work your way from back to front, starting with the tallest plants at the back and the shortest in front so that every plant can be seen and appreciated.
—The writer is a landscape architect
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