How would it be to wake up to the sound of chirping of birds early in the morning or a hot cup of tea in your cozy couch with the balmy morning sun shining through tender green leaves? Or how would it be to walk up to your balcony to pluck some fresh coriander for your garnishing your curry, or dig out some fresh carrots for your carrot cake? And all this even when you are living in an apartment?
As concrete jungles expand to keep pace with burgeoning human population, the city dweller is left with no option but to go vertical in this rat race for space and shelter. This simply means making a big compromise – having to come to terms with little or almost miniscule balcony spaces.
Modern living meets nature
For nature evangelists and plant lovers, who need the green lung space in their apartments, balcony gardens and green balcony landscapes are possibly the only refuge one can seek in today’s growing urban landscapes. Many people are opting to create semi outdoor living spaces in their balconies that translate into mini gardens.
Loner or an entertainer – your balcony can serve as a great space to unwind, relax or rejoice. Come sunshine, rain or chilly winds, there is no better place than this in your home, to put your feet up or let your hair down.
Balcony gardening is the easiest way to bring in nature into your living spaces, offering endless beautiful sights and delights. Every season brings with it a gush of color, with leaves and flowers. From the parched brown twigs of winter to the scorching colored flowers of summer – your balcony garden will never cease to amaze you. Gentle flowers, fresh herbs, oxygenated air, chirping birds and humming bees, cool breeze, sound of rustling leaves, fresh vegetables and sweet fruits are some of the delights of balcony gardening.
An art and a science too
Balcony gardening is not a one-time act of buying the best looking plants and arranging them at appropriate corners. You have to consider a host of challenging factors such as load bearing, water system, sunshine, city conditions, plants, neighbors and more. Balcony gardens are not created as a one-time or stand-alone activity as the goal is to help the garden thrive and flourish. It takes time, commitment and love to grow and nurture your balcony garden.
For the balcony gardener, here is some basic information on planning, designing, and growing your apartment balcony garden, and tips and tricks to making your balcony green, eco-friendly and inviting.
Designing your Garden Balcony
First, design your balcony garden on paper. The idea is to create a green space that is not jam-packed with plants. There has to be some space for the plants and you to breathe. It is the empty spaces in balcony that give you a visual relief, circulate air and ensure that sunlight reaches most of the leaves. Check your balcony’s status for the feasibility of creating your little garden. There are many structural and hardware related issues that you need to look into.
Structural and Hardware Aspect of Balcony Gardens
If you are planning for a full fledged balcony garden, take care of the structure of the balcony such as support, age of building, floor type, water proofing, etc. Also check for water seepage, leakage, water inlet-outlets, and many other factors. Ensure that the balcony is water proof, does not hurt your neighbors below and that the water outlet does not make a mess elsewhere.
Water proofing, watering system, fixed plant areas other than movable pots and planters, lighting, etc are some of the hardware elements of garden design. Once these are in place, rest is all about placing and moving your potted plants to best suit your space.
Selection of Plants for Balcony Gardens
Balconies are constrained gardens with limited soil and sunlight – thereby impacting the growth and growing pattern of most plants. Invest in plants and saplings that can thrive in your city conditions.
More often than not, people invest in seeds and seedlings from hilly climes to grow in the city conditions – which simply don’t grow. But at the same time you should keep experimenting, for nature is resilient and always springs surprises. So keep gardening while keeping the faith, for life somehow finds its way.
As you continue to experiment with your plants in the balcony, get yourself a good seasonal handbook for growing plants in local conditions. These will not only help you plan and plant according to seasons, but also give you ideas for a beautiful and bountiful balcony garden – all year long. Have some flowering plants in the balcony to attract birds and bees for cross pollination.
Remember that plants lend to the garden’s character and determine the look and feel of your balcony. Plants help you design this space with additional accents. Different plants such as climbers, creepers, bushes, etc., lend their charm and help you pick up cues on designing your balcony space.
Design Themes for Balcony Gardens
From the colored lanterns and iron accents of Morocco, to the clean cut designs of Zen simplicity, balcony gardens have come of age with designer themes and look.
The current rage amongst modern balcony gardens is to go Zen, Moroccan, Oriental, Balinese, Japanese, Indian, etc. Each of these themes has unique design elements, look and feel. Research, see and get inspiredd on creating your balcony space.
If nothing works, take a walk in your neighbourhood to pick up local accents such as wood, tree trunks, used tin cans or glass bottles, terracotta pots or designs, etc, to set up your own designer balcony where you design its look. There is no end to what you can do.
Outdoor Furniture and Design Accents for Balcony Gardens
Bamboo furniture, futons, wicker stools, swings, hammocks, wind chimes, accent pots and decorative items, are some of the standard embellishments.
You can add art prints, murals, terracotta tree art, wrought iron furniture or wall embellishments, mirrors, tree trunks, dried flower arrangements, bird baths and feeders, and more to make your balcony eclectic, exotic and interesting. Don’t hold back on creativity here… for you don’t have to worry about blending it with the house décor.
If you do not have much space in your balcony, you can take your garden vertical with custom made iron pot holders, shelves, of steppe slabs or tables.
Fairy Lights in Plants and Balcony Space
Twinkling fairy lights and tea light candles nestled among the green plants look magical at night. For a quiet evening, entertaining your guests, late evening tea, or even dinner, this soft magical ambient lighting is indeed a sight to behold.
Don’t miss out on this great design accent for soft lighting and fairytale look. LEDs are better than normal string lights which hurt the plants with heat. Ensure that the light bulbs do not touch the plant stems and leaves. Also do not use the lights for longer duration as it may hurt the plant.
Eat your Organic Garden Produce
Your balcony can also contribute to your kitchen by way of fresh vegetables and herbs, while the kitchen waste becomes your garden’s manure.
Apart from ornamental plants, make use of your balcony space to grow herbs, vegetables and fruits. There is no great pleasure than walking up to your balcony to pluck out the freshest of herbs and vegetables for your meal.
Most common balcony produce includes herbs such as coriander, curry leaves, tulsi-basil, etc along with most of the green leafy vegetables. Vegetables include tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, beans, and a whole range of vegetables and fruits that do not need much deep soil.
Have some flowering plants to attract birds and bees for cross pollination as most of the vegetable plants do not have bright colored flowers.
Container Gardening for Balconies
Apart from growing vegetables interesting containers can add a great visual impact to your garden. Left over tins, bottles, cans, buckets, etc can be converted into good looking planters for balcony. Group different colored-shaped containers for interesting plant arrangement
Container gardening works best for most root vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, ginger, etc. Big planters, outdoor pots, and geometric planter are good for creating an interesting visual space as well as for letting the roots run deep. Even sacks and bags containing good soil can be used for growing potatoes.
Green Lung Space with Eco Friendly Balcony Gardening
The basic requirement for a balcony garden is to follow green principles to derive maximum joy and full foliage. Make you balcony garden in tune with the principles of earth.
There are many ways of going green for a green garden. Look around your landscape for accents. Don’t go too far to source your materials. Invest in solar powers lights. Use mud and terracotta pots instead of plastic ones. Use khus or bamboo curtains for coolness. Route or recycle your kitchen or bath water to your balcony garden. Kitchen waste such as peels, egg shells, etc makes excellent manure. Make design accents with waste or un-used articles.
Balcony Gardening with Children
Balcony gardening are perhaps the only way we can sensitize our children to plants while we live in these sprawling cities. By getting them involved in watering, tending, caring and enjoying the time spent among plants, you can initiate your children into caring for them. This is the least we can do, on a daily basis.
The Soul of your Balcony Garden
Gardening is a give and take relationship. Have a balcony garden only if you love plants. There is no point in creating the most gorgeous garden but not being able to sustain or nourish it. Do not have it to make a style or lifestyle statement.
Read about your plants but try to feel them more. Plants are living beings. They sense and feel too. A lot has been written and researched on the secret lives of plants. And to live amongst these green living beings is a blessing in itself. Apart from providing food and sustenance, there are many sacred reasons for plants to exist. From plant auras, plant energy vortexes, communication between plants, plant souls, and more, there are many unknown facets of plants that will unfold with time. Scientifically, it has been proved that plants act and react. It is a matter of time that this will become a norm.
Plants know when they feel love. They respond to your voice and your state of mind. Over a period of time you will find yourself forming a bond with your garden where plants and you will communicate in ways unknown.
Plants flourish when you deeply care. Your words, acts of love, your thoughts towards plants, and your deep feelings go a long way in making your plants feel and stay healthy.
Plants germinate, grow, flower, fruit, and die… only to rise once again. And to witness this cycle of life, in front of your eyes, keeps us reminded and grounded of the simple things in life… that give simple lessons…for us to live simply.
Go; enjoy your little garden… wherever it is.
Written above are my thoughts on balcony gardens. Having lived in an independent house as well as an apartment, I could create and enjoy some beautiful green spaces that not only served as a semi outdoor garden but also are a great dining, working, entertaining and meditating spaces.
Some of my balcony garden photos and tips have been used by The Hindu for an article on Balcony Gardening. This in turn prompted me to write more on the subject… as balcony gardening is a continuous journey. I hope to write to more as well as keep myself inspiredd for more.
For anyone who needs specific information on what to grow where, and things that you can possibly do with your balcony such as plans, design ideas, discussion, etc, please get in touch.