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Less is more

There’s an instinct to go for small pots (and more of them) on a tiny balcony, but in fact, this tends to look fussy and messy. You’re far better off going for the largest pots you can afford and that will fit on the balcony, which will actually make the space look larger. It also makes for healthier plants, which will thrive in deeper, moister soil. In short, one or two large pots with big, healthy plants in them will look miles better than 20 tiny pots with struggling plants to create a balcony garden.

Before you start shopping, look for lightweight pots – fiberglass rather than solid terracotta – as these will be easier to get into the apartment, for a start, and will get around any weight restrictions on the balcony.

What to plant

The good news is you can grow almost any plant you like in a balcony garden, as long as they’re suitable to the aspect – sun, shade and wind. But there’s a catch: if you can’t run an irrigation system (and, with most balconies, you can’t), you’re limited by the amount of water you’re willing to lug in a watering can from the kitchen or nearest tap. You also need to make sure you have drainage, which may not be the case in an older apartment. Without drainage, irrigation systems are out and you might have to restrict yourself to succulents to avoid the ire of your neighbours every time the saucers on the pots overflow!

Because of the maintenance required to keep potted plants happy, hardy plants will be your first choice – succulents are great, with tough specimens like Podocarpus (brown pine) where you need something larger. Consider the function you want your plants to serve and the type of balcony garden you wish to create. Privacy is often a top priority for a balcony garden and can be achieved by planting almost anything you like in long trough planters. Blank walls can be readily disguised with vertical gardens or creepers, which will blur the boundaries of the space.

Furniture and finishing touches

Just as in a large garden, it’s the finishing touches that make the space and there are plenty of ideas you can use that won’t take up much of your valuable balcony real estate. Mirrors are a favoured tool of landscapers and interior designers alike, visually expanding the space, reducing the feeling of being boxed in and doubling the amount of greenery. Small water features will help drown out traffic noise and contribute a feeling of serenity – screw them into the wall or look for a small freestanding feature with its own reservoir.

You’re obviously going to want to sit and enjoy your balcony garden but put some thought into the most appropriate furniture. If the space is most likely to be used by one person, idly wandering out while on the phone or standing for a moment to breathe in the morning air, a stool or two is likely more than adequate. If there’s room for a dining setting, choose benches over chairs, as the former can be neatly tucked away when not in use and will seat more people when you have company.

Or if you have the space, such as on these Secret Gardens projects, enjoy a day bed. The ultimate in creating an outdoor zone to be enjoyed.