Lockdown has turned our forgotten balconies into a breath of fresh air, with many apartment residents creating beautiful, mini oasis-like gardens out on their front porches and balconies.
Take a look at our top tips for breathing life back into your outdoor area and let us show you that you don’t need grass or space to make a wonderful, relaxing space outside.
Use your walls to create height with hanging planters, living walls, shelving, garland lights, whatever you fancy! When floor space is limited – you go up! Many climbing plants will grow happily for two or three years in a large container, and you can train them up a trellis attached to the wall. Jasminum x stephanense grows well in a large container and is covered in fragrant flowers all summer.
Living wall systems are sold in kit form, and can be scaled up or down to suit your space and budget – even one panel makes an impact. They’re easy to put together and can be planted up in a weekend, then attached to a sturdy fence or wall. You can usually buy built-in watering systems for your living wall; some can be supplied with a top box for filling with a watering can if you can’t use the mains.
If you can’t attach anything to the walls of your balcony, you can still make the most of the vertical space. Grow sweet peas or clematis in a large pot and train the plant up a wigwam inserted into the pot.
If you are in a block of apartments and will be overlooked when sitting out on your balcony, there are some easy ways to give yourself that privacy from nosy neighbours. Tall plants such as Horsetail Grass, Spartan Juniper, or a simple bamboo planter will give that immediate sheltered feel. If you have clear glass balcony rails then you can order privacy adhesive stickers online that will give the glass a cloudy effect while still allowing light in for your plants.
If you’re looking for an attractive solution to ensure a bit more seclusion, then an outdoor privacy screen is a great way to easily achieve this. Bamboo is naturally robust, waterproof, and decorative, making it an ideal material for garden screening, whether you need protection from the wind, the sun or just prying eyes. It’s quick and easy to install and will add a cool tropical vibe to your patio space – just add sunshine and cocktails and you’ll be transported to a beach in Hawaii.
Grow your own
You might be floors away from real ground, but you can still get a great crop on a balcony, so long as it gets at least five hours of sun during summer. Water can be a big problem – containers dry out very quickly, and often rain can’t reach them because of roof overhangs. Water often, but don’t overwater, that’ll kill plants, too. Test if you’ve got it right by poking a finger into the compost. If it’s slightly moist just below the surface it’s perfect.
Top four vegetables for growing on balconies or decks:
- Tomatoes, especially cherry tomatoes, grow well when potted on a deck or balcony. Don’t be afraid to use yellow cherry tomato varieties, such as Bianca cherry, to mix things up.
- Aubergines also come in a wide variety of shapes and colours: purple, white, elongated, round, etc.
- Peppers and chilis also work well on a balcony. Your choice of species will generally depend on your tastes, with flavours ranging from sweet and spicy to burning hot! You’ll also find a variety of colours including green, yellow, orange or red. The sight of a pot of orange peppers alongside lush green leaves can really add a bit of oomph to a balcony or deck!
- Swiss chard also offers a range of colourful varieties with yellow, orange or red leaves. Try some ‘bright lights’ seeds for a rainbow of colours.
Dwarf fruit trees, which never exceed 1.5 m in height, will produce fruit in abundance. And the fruit provided is often just as good as that grown on standard trees! Varieties suitable for smaller spaces include apricots, almonds, cherries, peaches, pears, apples and plums, all of which are self-fruiting. These trees can also be easily moved around to avoid bad weather (frost, hail, high winds, etc.). Some varieties, known as columnar trees, have been specially selected for their narrow shape. This is a great option for saving space on a smaller balcony. Citrus fruits such as lemons, kumquats and oranges are also generally quite successful in pots. You can even grow them in areas with cold winters, provided they are kept indoors over the course of the cold season. Finally, we can’t forget gooseberries, raspberries or any type of climbing fruit that can work its way up a wall or a pergola.
One advantage of being higher up with a balcony is that you’ll likely attract more birds to your space. There are tons of ingenious bird feeders and bird tables that you can attach to your railings or straight onto your window or sliding door. City living might not allow for the biggest green spaces – particularly if you’re in an apartment block – but with the right plants, even the smallest balcony garden (or even window boxes) can create a buzz when it comes to attracting birds, butterflies and bees. Plants that provide both pollen and nectar are ideal for attracting bees and other pollinating insects. Jasmine, English lavender, honeysuckle and foxglove are just four of the beautiful and fragrant plants and flowers you could opt for.
Plants that bear berries and seeds provide a natural food source for our feathered friends. Lavender is not only a magnet for bees and butterflies, it can also provide a feast for birds when it goes to seed while honeysuckle berries are the perfect snack for warblers and thrushes. Night-scented plants such as evening primrose and buddleia are great for attracting moths, while herbs, such as thyme, provide ideal shelters for bugs and beetles.
Take a seat
Whether you can fit a corner lounge sofa, a small bistro set or just a stool – there are so many ways you can style a seating area for maximum enjoyment of your balcony. Let’s start with the floor, if you really have no room for furniture then a couple of large, soft pillows could make a lovely place to rest. The typical apartment balcony has a concrete floor that is devoid of personality. Fortunately, you can spruce up a boring slab with interlocking deck tiles. They are very easy to install by simply snapping the pieces together. And if you are a renter, you should know they are a cinch to remove. Alternatively, outdoor rugs or bamboo mats provide something soft underfoot while doubling as a picnic blanket to make a more inviting space. You can also use floor poufs, beanbags, upturned boxes or footstools for extra seating.
Another great space-saving idea is to install a mini tabletop onto the existing railings to create a bar feel. Somewhere to place your drinks and snacks without taking up as much room as a conventional table. Enjoy breakfast, lunch and the sights from up high, having a balcony instead of a garden doesn’t mean you can’t dine alfresco! Invest in a compact bench for your balcony for ultimate style and comfort. Place against the wall, ensuring you’ll have enough room to stretch your legs. Just layer with outdoor cushions and throws. Make sure that you always choose weatherproof cushions, wood and metal frames if you plan to leave anything out overnight.
Bean bags are brilliant for those who love to take the comfort outdoors. As well as being waterproof, outdoor bean bags are designed to blend style, comfort and durability, providing somewhere relaxing to unwind in the sunshine. Depending on available sizes, you can buy a large outdoor bean bag to seat more than one person, while other designs offer practical backrest for additional support. Perfect for bringing an indoor feel to your outdoor space, and fuss-free additional seating should you need it, we’d recommend teaming outdoor bean bags with an outdoor rug and garden lantern for a real cosy atmosphere.
Use your railings
The railings are there for your safety but that doesn’t mean they have to look boring!
Everyone loves a good barbecue. But perhaps, regrettably, you don’t have a BBQ grill because you think you don’t have space for one. Well, think again, because there are now clever hanging BBQ grills that hang on a rail or a wall to provide a practical, out of the way barbecue experience anywhere. So whether your bit of the outdoors consists of an enclosed wooden deck, or simply a wee apartment balcony, there will always be a little space for this BBQ, allowing you to enjoy your grilled drumsticks and sausages with your friends and revel in that lovely relaxed (and smoky) feeling a real barbeque set brings. So grab a bag of charcoal and grab those tongs – it’s time to gather your pals together and get grilling!
Lighting is important if you plan to spend evenings out on your balcony and these days you can choose from hanging garland lights, lanterns, clip-on solars, and so much more. Some exceptional balcony designs include hanging a multitude of lights dripping from the ceiling to make it seem like a starry night sky… Plenty of us are using our railings to hang planters and window boxes for our shrubs and colourful flowers but again, there is so much choice now for which design to go for. Bucket planters, trays, woven baskets, rainbow tubs, modern steel boxes, etc.