CULTURE

Balcony garden design

A well-designed garden should always show the surrounding landscape to its best advantage and the same applies to a balcony garden, even if the only view it frames is one of more apartment buildings. Balconies are often designed as an extension of the apartment, reflecting its style and ambience. If the apartment is tiny, the way plants are used on the balcony can give a feeling of space simply by drawing the eye outside and replacing the view of another building with foliage, but if the plants are too overpowering or messy they can also add to the cramped feeling. Sometimes a contrast is desired – lush greenery inviting you out of an interior of simple lines and soft colors. So decide what kind of atmosphere you want to create before choosing plants and positioning them. For a more modern effect, choose plants with dramatic architectural shapes, such as drought-resistant yuccas, agaves, succulents and grasses. Exotic foliage is more suitable for a more protected or partly shaded area. Leafy plants such as jasmine, philodendrons, palms and lilies need more watering and occasional spraying in very dry conditions. Think about your water bill before deciding on these options. The heady perfume of jasmine has made it one of the most popular balcony plants but it can’t survive sub-zero temperatures. There are also shrub varieties such as Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambac, the fouli of Greek village gardens) that has larger, more heavily scented, white waxy flowers, single or double, and large, dark green leaves. Bulbs produce splashes of color in spring. On exposed balconies, use bulbs with shorter stems; strong winds will break long stems. Particularly colorful are the dwarf tulip varieties such the yellow water-lily tulip (Tulipa kaufmanniana) and the bright scarlet Tulipa Pandour. For a more formal, symmetrical look, try clipped shrubs such as Buxus sempervirens (if you can spare the extra time needed to trim them), shorter species of conifers, box plants, or citrus trees in tubs. Roses, gardenias and herbs give a country feel, but don’t forget that gardenias are tricky – they like to stay in one place and need protection. Rosemary is a hardy shrub that can be clipped to encourage bushy growth as a backdrop to other scented plants. Smaller species of roses are particularly suited to balconies. Miniature shrub roses need more care, but they have a longer flowering period than the larger varieties. Keep in mind the needs of specific plants and the conditions they will be subject to on your balcony, such as exposure to wind and hours of direct sunlight. If you face south-southwest, they will be protected from northerly blasts but exposed to the scorching heat of the sun throughout the long summer days. Position smaller plants that need extra protection under the branches of larger plants. Putting different plants together in the same large pot is another way of saving space and achieving variety, but make sure they are plants with the same water requirements. Many plants will have withered during the snowfall of the past week. Next time it threatens flurries – whenever that is – be ready to cover balcony plants at the first whiff of snow. Prevention is better than cure. Sheets of plastic seem the most logical but most gardening consultants advise against plastic, as it cuts off air and causes heat to build up if left on during the day. Sacking, which lets the plant breathe, is better. When you’re potting new plants or repotting, spread a large sheet of plastic or plastic-coated paper (plastic side up so you can clean it and reuse it) over the area where you will be working, to avoid mess. A good trowel for putting soil into pots, two forked implements (for dividing roots), pruning shears and a watering can are vital in even the smallest balcony garden. Get used to hand watering, as it is easy to get carried away and use more water than necessary when using a hose, particularly in summer when the temptation to splash about is hard to resist. Potted plants should be allowed to dry out between watering. Pour the water on gently and give them a gradual soaking. Don’t let water stand in the drainage saucer; waterlogging is as fatal as non-watering. Pots dry out quickly if not watched, however. The summer holiday problem can be solved by using one of the battery-operated automatic watering systems that attaches to the balcony tap and a hose with a drip system linked to each pot. Make sure the drips are properly adjusted by having a few trial runs before you go away, to give you time to regulate the flow and the appropriate duration of watering time Another important factor to keep in mind is the weight-bearing capacity of your balcony. Check with an engineer if in doubt. Pots shouldn’t be too heavy – don’t forget that putting the drainage trays on wheels also makes cleaning the balcony and changing the position of pots much easier. Clay pots are attractive but expensive and very heavy in bigger sizes. Wood planters are lighter, and plastic ones now come in a variety of styles and colors.