Beautify your patio with a little help from Mother Nature.
It’s the end of the day—what Amelia Sullivan calls the “sundowner cocktail hour”—and this Battersby Howat landscape designer is on her balcony, watering the garden with a yellow enamelled kettle that used to belong to her mother. “My husband and I picked this apartment based on what time of day the sun would be on the balcony,” she explains.
That criterion might seem strange to some, but it makes perfect sense for Sullivan. She still remembers planting lettuce and beans as a child and running along a pathway her mother interplanted with mint (“our feet would always smell wonderful”). For her, gardens mean home and family—so it’s no wonder that the balcony was a deciding factor in choosing her West End apartment. Starting your own personal Eden? Get her best advice below.
➊ Measure Sunlight
Even experts can mistake how much sun exposure their balcony gets. Sullivan uses a sensor, available at Lee Valley Tools, to make sure she has an accurate read: “I was so sure I had enough sun on my balcony, but it turns out I have part shade to full shade!”
➋ Make it Rain
If you have an upstairs neighbour, your plants won’t get much rainfall—and combined with the wind, this makes for an extremely dry microclimate. “That’s everyone’s downfall with a balcony garden,” Sullivan says. “Sometimes I water my plants twice a day.” Install an automated irrigation system to make life a little easier, and pick planters with false bottoms to catch any runoff.
➌ Think Tough
Look for plants with fuzzy, waxy or needle-like leaves—they can stand up to more intense weather conditions, like high winds, heat or (more likely in Vancouver) a rainstorm. “Lavender is pretty foolproof, but avoid maples,” Sullivan suggests. “They end up looking like half-baked Charlie Brown trees.”
➍ Go Big
According to Sullivan, “bolder strokes are better.” Opt for two or three trough-style planters rather than many little pots. It’s a move that will help visually anchor the space, and having more dirt will give your plants a better chance at success.
➎ Open Up
If you’re planning to divide your balcony, “keep things as perforated as possible—think lattices or screens instead of solid walls,” Sullivan says. Poor air circulation breeds pests and exacerbates already harsh weather conditions.
➏ Get the Dirt
Choose denser soils over peat-based ones: the greater weight will anchor planters in high winds. And, pretty as they are, forget shiny pebbles—Sullivan says they’ll only attract crows.
➐ Weigh In
Position planters over columns or load-bearing walls. A cubic foot of wet soil, Sullivan explains, can weigh a lot more than you might expect—close to 100 pounds. Add a concrete planter, and things start to get heavy.