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Plants for a balcony, i.e. gardening for the garden-less
Not everyone has a garden. Indeed, many people live in flats, apartments and maisonettes which might not even have a balcony. Perhaps you live in a tiny terrace with just a back yard. If this describes you, it would be easy to assume that gardening doesn't feature very high on your list of priorities.
But there's room for some greenery, wherever you live. Not only will it look good but studies have shown that it does you good too. There are window boxes, balcony pots and plants that are happy to sit on a windowsill.
Some people even manage to house a hanging basket or two indoors where they overflow with colourful annuals or herbs, protected from frost and wind. Indeed, almost anything is possible. In fact, thousands of people grow a wide range of plants in tiny spaces. They just need to think about basic requirements.
Keeping it light
If its a balcony you are hoping to adorn with plants, consider the potential issue of weight. Check out your space via a structural engineer if you're not sure a balcony can take it. Or restrict the size of your planter and use a compost mix which is lightweight. Mixing vermiculite with compost is a good idea. Polystyrene can be used at the bottom of the pot to aid drainage.
Protect from windThen there's the wind which tends to whistle around the upper storeys even on a calm day. Choose your plant varieties carefully because some won't enjoy the buffeting. Sunshine is another consideration. There are some plants that will be happy facing north, but most of them will prefer south or west. They will face the extremes on a balcony.
It's all perfectly possible, however! Perhaps you have noticed the gradual greening of above-ground spaces that has evolved as the years slip by? Apartment blocks often have fairly mature trees growing on their balconies!
Plants help remove some of the pollution in the environment. They reduce the heat island effect and soak up water which helps to alleviate the flood risk. Their foliage makes an appealing rustling noise which is calming. Even the colour green is meant to be good for people to look at.
Grow your own
Many people grow vegetables on their balconies and indeed they enjoy great success. Fresh food, just a few steps away from the kitchen, is hard to beat.
Keep them warm
Be realistic about what you can hope to achieve. Think about pots that will keep plants warm, such as terracotta in the sunshine. You can secure shelving onto walls and use the balcony rails and edges for planters that straddle the structure. But tie them down! Group plants together so they can protect each other and create their own microclimate.
Types of plants suitable for balconies
Everything you choose to put on a balcony will need to be drought and wind tolerant. They also need to be happy enough to live permanently in a pot. Their ultimate size needs to be small or they will eventually try to break out of the pot. Generally, the small-leafed plants are more wind-tolerant than those with large leaves.
Plants to avoid on balconies
Japanese Acers tend to suffer very easily from wind burn and they won't look very impressive on balconies unless they are very sheltered. Architectural tree ferns will dry out too much and are unlikely to survive. Even bamboo doesn't take too kindly to high-rise living as it likes copious watering.
Plants suitable for balconies
What can you plant on a balcony? The first beauty that springs to mind is the olive tree, provided it occupies a sunny spot. They are drought tolerant and the small leaves allow the wind to pass through easily. What's more, they look amazing too. The larger they grow, the more interesting they become, particularly those lovely trunks.
Geraniums, or more correctly pelargoniums, will be perfectly happy in drought-like conditions. What's more, they will give you some amazingly colourful flowers in the summer. Many ornamental grasses will like the conditions and plants that have edible leaves such as sage, rosemary and thyme are often robust enough to enjoy the above-ground habitat. There are root vegetables such as beetroot and carrots that can do well, and even raspberries, blackberries and gooseberries too. Be bold enough to experiment and you'll soon be able to add to the list of balcony-loving plants!
Perfect Plants is an on-line supplier of garden plants and house plants. Also pots, garden equipment, furniture and gifts. Tel: 01323 833479 www.perfectplants.co.uk