The Sunday Times
As someone who began her gardening life on a balcony, I am always thankful for this introduction to plants. The challenges are mitigated by its many blessings. It is, in essence, veranda life up high — and, as with any terrace or porch, the key to creating a beautiful space is keeping it tidy, with a good percentage of empty floor space in which to enjoy your mini Eden. Plants are obviously crucial, but ease of watering and maintenance should dictate your choices.
Gardena’s set of good-quality, long-lasting tools includes a trowel, a grubber, secateurs and a brush, all packaged in a case that doubles as a dustpan (£25; worldofwatering.co.uk). Otherwise, a small bucket of sand into which to plunge your tools will keep them clean and dry — and you will always know where they are.
A container into which one can throw the results of a regular balcony tidying session is vital, and all the better if it can be folded up once the deed is done. Fundwerk’s pop-up garden waste bags to the rescue (£30 for two sizes; amazon.co.uk).
The only way is up
Climbers are key, as long as they are suited to your balcony’s aspect. Containers should be as large as you can manage; the more compost you can give your climber, the better it will grow.
For tricky spaces, the Loft Urban Green Wall Rack, from Elho (£14.30), is easy to install and will hold a number of the firm’s planters (single £4.30, double £6), into which you can put your favourite small plants, then move them around at will. For a classic Mediterranean look on a sunny site, you can’t go far wrong with pelargoniums.
These can be a pain to water, so get yourself some ceramic Plant Nanny stakes and have your plants do it themselves. These ingenious irrigation devices control water flow via a ceramic spike screwed into the neck of an old plastic bottle (£27 for four; amazon.co.uk).
Hang it all
Finding containers that can be attached to railings, providing a window box-style mini border, is essential for any balcony dweller who wants that all-important second tier of planting. Check out the Hanging Trough, which has a water reservoir in its base (£25; patchplants.com).
The dark side
Have you noticed how much better plants look on a dark background? This can often make the difference between “nice” and “wow”, and only a small area needs to be painted, so you don’t have to break the bank. Check out Little Greene’s masonry paint in Scree or Obsidian Green (littlegreene.com). It’s ecofriendly and matt as matt — your plants will never have looked so good.
The green stuff
Flowers are joyful, but for low-maintenance glamour, stick to green and ring the changes with your textures. Fill large containers with evergreen ferns and add jungly vibes with large-leaved hardy shrubs such as Fatsia japonica. Any hanging baskets should be filled with Glechoma hederacea — the prettiest of all hanging things — and the best climber of all for a sheltered space, with bonus scented flowers, is Trachelospermum jasminoides. Any small containers can be filled with perennials, but go easy here if you can’t abide anything looking the slightest bit scruffy over winter.
I love the container pond kits from watersidenursery.co.uk, which are made from fibreglass and come in a variety of finishes (from £160).
Grab a seat
A chair is essential; even if you have to get rid of plants in order to put one on your balcony, then do it, because otherwise what is the point? I will never not want a folding Liggestolen beach chair (£333; liggestolen.dk), but if that’s beyond your budget, the Mina Natural Rattan Chair would do very nicely, thank you (£115; from tikamoon.co.uk).
If you don’t have irrigation and there’s a drainpipe nearby, why not divert it and set up rainwater on tap? The 100-litre Prestige wall-mounted butt takes up hardly any space and could save your living-room carpet from all that sploshing as you lug your watering can in and out of the kitchen (£109; freeflush.co.