Before designing and planting up your balcony, you really need to know which plants will thrive in these conditions. Depending if you live high up or lower down in a building, you need know know what will succeed. With a little understanding of the environment, you’ll be able to create a lovely sky garden.
Never has there been a time when people are more interested in plants and gardens. And people want to spend more precious time outside, if they can. For people living in apartment blocks with balconies in London, this is especially true. Unfortunately lockdown happened at the beginning of the gardening season, before people could buy any plants. And now with limited availability of plants, people are struggling to know how to make their balconies beautiful.
For my business, this has been a difficult time. Normally we’d be busy in and out of apartments in developments across London in areas like Greenwich, Docklands and Nine Elms, installing container planters on our customer’s balconies. As we can’t do that, here are some ideas for starting the process of creating a garden on your balcony on your own. I am breaking these posts down as much as possible to cover all aspects. In this article I deal with choosing and setting up the planters.
Starting with Structural Plants
I will always start a planting design with a range of structural plants in each planter. These are evergreen plants that look good all year long. They may not always be showy bloomers but having them in your planting scheme, ensures two things.
First structural, evergreen plants will grow throughout the year, making sure things always look good. Secondly these plants will be the supporters and scaffolding for other more seasonal plants. Plants you use to give seasonal colour will always be more delicate so you need these stronger plants around to support them.
So taking the wind into account, you are looking for plants with small leaves that won’t get dehydrated. Dwarf conifers like juniper alongside lavender and rosemary, will give you the perfect base upon which to create a seasonal planting scheme. These are strong plants with tiny leaves and you can often find varieties which spread across rather than grow up. Other plants with similar characteristics are Broom (which has incredible flowers in Spring), Calocephalus, Santolina (Cotton Lavender), Sweet Box and Helichrysum (Curry Plant).
Grasses are hardy and also great for giving all year round effect. They look fantastic. You can go for evergreen Carex, which has many different varieties or taller more feathery grasses like Pennisetum or Miscanthus (these need cutting back in Spring, so you get a good green regrowth). A real favourite which is low growing and hardy is Festuca which also has lots of varieties, including the lovely ‘Elijah Blue’.
The great thing about grasses is that they move with the wind. Like all of the structural plants I have listed here, you are looking for plants that won’t be damaged by the wind. So grasses are the perfect companions for other plants in your balcony planters.
Woody herbs are also fantastic for growing in a balcony container. Different varieties of thyme will do well all year round, along with marjoram, rosemary and sage.
Plants for seasonal colour
Now it’s spring you can start to think about flowering species that will give you some colour and fragrance planted among your other plants. They say in container gardening that you should always have a range of ‘fillers, thrillers and spillers’! The structural evergreen plants in your balcony planters are the fillers. So by now you can be adding in some spillers. Try trailing species like Bacopa or Convovulus or even different varieties of Ivy to add some interest. These will hang over the side of the planter, softening the edges and giving you the sense of movement you’d get in a garden.
You can also plant more fragrant plants like Salvias, scented Pelargoniums (Geraniums) which are fairly robust. Then you have a host of bedding plants, beautiful trailing, flowering plants. These will keep flowering throughout the spring and summer. But you will need to keep nipping off the dead heads once these have died. You can try Violas, Pansies, Petunias, Campanulas and all sorts of other plants to bring seasonal colour to your balcony planters.
Other plants on your balcony
Then there are the kinds of plants you might need in really high up, exposed balcony planters. You might be looking more for the effect of having green things growing outside but that won’t need much care. These will be plants like Sempervirens (succulent plants) and alpines which grow on mountainsides.
Succulents are particularly robust and used to surviving in most conditions. From dry exposed sunny balconies and terraces to more shady spaces, you will find succulent plants that will survive happily.
Alpines are low growing, often tiny versions of bigger varieties that grow in gardens. They are traditionally the plants that were used in rockeries. But they are perfect plants for balcony planters in exposed conditions. Just think about where they are used to growing, thousands of metres high in mountainous regions. You can find specialist plant suppliers for alpines. I recommend Slacktop Nurseries.