How To Plan A Balcony Garden

From troughs to window boxes, herb stands to basic pots, there’s a lot you can do to inject a bit of greenery and colour into a small space. Here, we asked RHS Gold Medal winner Will Williams from Soto Gardens and Sproutl’s Hollie Newton to explain more…
By Georgina Blaskey /

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What’s the most important consideration when you’re planning what to plant on a balcony?

“The amount of light your balcony gets will affect your planting choices. South-facing areas should have plants which do well in the hot sun, whereas north-facing balconies will require shade-loving plants. If you need to know the aspect of your outside space, simply use a compass – these days you probably have one on your phone. Stand looking out onto your balcony. If you are facing east or west, you will have a partial garden. South facing means full sun. North facing means full shade.” – Will

What kind of plants work best in the sun?

“For a striking display, I’d plant some of the below in pots:

  • Astrantia shaggy is an absolute showstopper. It has small jewel like white flowers reminiscent of pin cushions, surrounded by a greenish-white ruff. Astrantias provide lasting colour to balconies.
  • Catmint has small purple flowers which contrast with fresh green leaves to offer soft and scented interest. Loved by pollinators, this plant has a long flowering period from early summer all the way into autumn.
  • A bay tree surrounded by Australian daisies at the base is a great way to add varying height to your outside space and to frame a door. The daisies’ small flowers add a pop of white that fades to a soft pink.
  • Dwarf mountain pines are almost indestructible and require little pruning. They provide interest throughout the year and have a lovely texture. They are an unusual yet architecturally striking addition to a balcony – I love them planted in a concrete style pot.” – Will

What kind of plants work best in the shade or semi shade?

“The best ones will thrive in low light but should also provide yearlong interest and be low maintenance. These are some suggestions which not only love being in the shade, but also add texture and varying heights to a balcony.

  • The ‘Sweet Box’ is a year-round star. In the winter, it provides fragrant and visual interest and has glossy green leaves with sweet, small white flowers which are followed by black berries.
  • The hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ is really impactful. The flowers start as a gentle lime green, developing to a soft white – perfect for a pot on a larger balcony. This hydrangea suits all aspects and brings a bit of colour to shady areas.
  • The ‘Taxus Dome’ is brilliant for ensuring your balcony looks smart all year round. It provides sturdy structure to your outside space and is great planted in windowsill boxes. The leaves are like dark green needles and offer a strong backdrop to other plants in your scheme. This dome is an evergreen, meaning it always has colour.” – Will
THREE different-height PLANTS grouped together will make an instant IMPACT. Then, think about how to VARY heights across the BALCONY.

 

What pots should you buy for drainage and/or weather resistance?

“The Elho reservoir pot is a sustainable and low maintenance option. The reservoir means you don’t need to worry about watering your plants too much or too little, so there’s one less thing to worry about. Pots with drainage holes prevent oversaturation of roots, or in other words overwatering, which can cause roots to rot. For something practical and pretty, we love the Bergs Copenhagen pots that come with drainage holes pre-drilled; they’re also frost-proof. High-quality materials and craftsmanship mean the pots will last from one generation to the next. Also, fibre clay looks like stone but is much lighter, so is a great option for balconies. These pots can be left outside all year because they are resistant to frost and UV rays. Concrete-style pots also allow the plants to shine. Often, they’re handmade and due to the natural variations of the material, shades, markings and air bubbles will differ across each one, making each one unique.” – Will

Is there an easy way to make different heights work?

“The general ‘rule of three’ works for any space. Three different-height plants grouped together will make an instant impact. Then, think about how to vary heights across your balcony. The odd tree or bamboo in a pot, plants on stands and a table, hanging pots and planters. And don't forget the wall – it's easy to drill brackets to install a vertical planter or simple hanging basket. Every surface is an opportunity.” – Hollie

How do you make window boxes work on a balcony?

“Window boxes are a great option for balconies. Slim, long, and weather resistant, just pop them along the wall or railings and plant with seasonal bedding plants – or even fruit like strawberries.” – Hollie

“Balconies are a great place to display and tend to your window box collections. Alternatively, consider our plant stands which will really allow them to shine.” – Will

 

You’ll notice that containers and POTS dry out much quicker than plants in the ground, so you will need to WATER them a little MORE frequently during the HOTTER months.

What should you plant in window boxes?

“The ‘Ilex Dome’ is great for adding evergreen structure to your outside space. It has small, dark green glossy leaves and produces small white flowers in the summer. Ivy is easily recognisable by its distinct teardrop leaf shape. Incredibly versatile, it looks beautiful trailing over the side of window boxes.” – Will

Any tips for keeping plants alive longer?

“To ensure the longevity of your plants, it’s essential to improve drainage and the soil structure with grit and mulch when you’re planting. We would always encourage you to add mulch to pots a few times a year – not only does this help with moisture retention, nutrients and helping to suppress weeds, it also looks extremely smart. Watering a plant correctly can also make all the difference. You’ll notice that containers and pots dry out much quicker than plants in the ground, so you will need to water them a little more frequently during the hotter months. Considering where and how plants are grown has also become increasingly important. Plants which have been grown outside often find it easier to adapt to British weather conditions.” – Will

What about herbs gardens on balconies – what’s the best way to nurture one?

“Balconies are a brilliant place for a herb kitchen – just bear in mind they need as much sun as possible; they love to bask in the light. Our nine-pot collection, which can form the base of an impressive kitchen garden, includes parsley, mint, rosemary, thyme, chives, oregano, lemon thyme, fennel and sage. Make the herbs a feature by displaying them in pots together on a stand.” – Will

Okay, so is there else to think about?

“Consider the amount of maintenance you want to do. Would you prefer a glass of rosé or a trowel in your hand on a sunny weekend afternoon? If you’d rather be relaxing, shrubs and evergreens are low-maintenance options. Pines are architectural, popular and relatively low maintenance, too. Your balcony is an extension of your home, so it should be another room where you can relax and entertain. Often, your outside space can be seen from the principal rooms, so seasonal interest is key.” – Will

Visit SotoGardens.com & Sproutl.com for more.


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