Tips for greener balconies and terraces – and a healthier, prettier city

Tips for greener balconies and terraces – and a healthier, prettier city

Flat rooftops and balconies are two characteristics of the Athenian cityscape that could go a long way towards improving our quality of life with a bit of TLC and creativity.

Just imagine that instead of eyesores with bare concrete, higgledy-piggledy TV antennas and solar boilers, rusting iron railings and plastic patio furniture cracking in the sun, every balcony and rooftop were to be filled with flowers, bushes and small trees. It’s not just that the city would be a whole lot prettier; even more importantly, such an abundance of greenery would act as a shield against the heat and pollution.

In the absence of some initiative to make that happen on a mass scale, Kathimerini reached out to three experts and asked them how every city dweller can “green up” their lives – and those of the people around them – with a few simple moves.

In a nutshell

tips-for-greener-balconies-and-terraces-and-a-healthier-prettier-city0Concrete absorbs heat, which means that it becomes trapped in our walls. What’s more, this heat tends to be “expelled” at night, pushing up the temperature. One solution is to cover outer walls with natural materials like wood by installing, for example, frames for climbing plants, or even roman blinds. You can also paint your walls in light colors, which deflect the sun.

Balcony floors also tend to give off heat, so laying down a few cotton or ratan rugs can help. 

As far as creating shade goes, apart from awnings, you can also plant trees in big pots or install wooden blinds across the length of your balcony, or use gauze curtains in spots that get a lot of sun; these can also help on rooftop terraces.

By adopting all or a combination of these steps, the temperature on a balcony can drop by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius.

Plant soil also absorbs water that is then released into the atmosphere through evaporation and plants can additionally reduce the sounds of the city by up to 10 decibels. Some plants like bamboo even make a relaxing sound when rustled by the breeze.

Any space, big or small, can be transformed into an oasis that improves our quality of life.

George Vernardakis, landscape architect and owner of the firm Glandscape (glandscape.eu)

Dos and don’ts

tips-for-greener-balconies-and-terraces-and-a-healthier-prettier-city2Almost all plants can grow on a rooftop terrace or balcony provided they have two things: sunlight and oxygen. After all, there is really no such thing as an “indoor plant” – some can simply also survive indoors.

Ornamental shrubs are an excellent option for Athens’ terraces and balconies. Photinia and silverberry, for example, do very nicely in pots and have a tendency to produce plenty of lush foliage.

We should also be mindful of helping bees with the choices we make, as they are essential to the natural environment. The fact is that there are very few flowering plants in Athens and especially in the city center. Therefore, climbing plants like common jasmine and star jasmine or flowering plants like gardenias, roses and lilies do not just offer a wonderful aroma, they are also an important source of food for these precious insects.

It is essential to repot new plants when you bring them home, replacing the poor soil they come in with a better quality one. You also need to make sure to use the right size of pot.

If a plant becomes accustomed to receiving a lot of water, it will be very unhappy when the quantities diminish. In other words, we create our plants’ needs to a significant extent.

An automatic watering system is not just recommended; it is a must for ensuring that our plants receive a specific quantity of water at specific times. It is also less wasteful than hand-watering, which is not as exact.

It is also ill-advised to use chemical fertilizers in an urban setting. Instead, we should wait for natural methods to work. Most importantly, never fertilize in the winter, because the roots of your plants need some time to rest.

Meanwhile, herbs like lavender, sweet-scented geranium and citronella will not solve your mosquito problem, but they may help reduce the number of pesky insects visiting your balcony. Another way to keep down their numbers is to make sure the saucers beneath your pots – if you have them, which you should – don’t fill up with water.

When it comes to terraces, the only way to get the full effect of a garden is to actually create a garden. This involves insulating the terrace properly and creating the infrastructure to cover a large part, if not all, of the surface area with soil and plants. It does demand a lot of dedication and a significant amount of money, but the effects are amazing. 

Olga Maneta, owner of the garden/plant shop I Do (Instagram: i_do_plant_shop)

Finishing touches

tips-for-greener-balconies-and-terraces-and-a-healthier-prettier-city4Candles and lanterns always create a pretty effect when illuminating a balcony or rooftop terrace, not to mention fairy lights, which are not only lovely at Christmas. If your space gets plenty of sunlight, solar-powered lights that you can place in your plant pots are a great option.

Don’t be scared to mix and match materials, like clay and concrete decorative pieces, wooden furniture with metal chairs or vice versa.

One way to achieve more privacy is to attach a reed fence along the length of the balcony railings, while pergolas also make excellent separators, especially if they also support a climbing plant or two.

The so-called director’s chair is an enduring classic, not to mention that it is comfortable, simple, affordable and always fashionable. Cushions and rag rags are a great way to add color and style, though make sure to choose fabrics that are resistant to the elements.

If you need storage space, you can use trunks and stools that can also act as seating.

Tini Ioannidou, interior designer (ifdesign.gr)

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