One of the knock-on effects of the coronavirus pandemic – and months of lockdown – is the way it has made people really appreciate outdoor spaces.
In a survey by YouGov last summer, 26% of Brits planning to buy a home over the next year were seeking more green space as a result of the pandemic. A third (32%) of house buyers said that having a garden was more now important to them, while 14% were now keener on finding a property with a balcony or terrace.
So, whether you’re renting or selling, introducing planting to balconies could make your property more sellable or stand out from other properties in the street. Below are a few tips on how to introduce greenery on to a balcony.
The easiest way to start is to think small and plan for a handful of containers, gradually building up a planting scheme, but you can transform a balcony or yard over a weekend if you’re keen to entice tenants or buyers as quickly as possible.
Sketch out a rough plan for the area, taking into account whether you want to have a small table and garden chairs and how it can naturally blend with the room it leads off.
For instance, if your balcony is next to a high-tech kitchen, then stylish contemporary containers with structured-looking plants will work well, while if it’s next to a more rustic wooden kitchen, you may want your balcony to have more of a cottagey feel with wildflowers trailing through the railings.
If, on the other hand, it leads off the living room, you may want to pick up colours from a sofa, cushions or paintwork and introduce it into your planting scheme – it will help extend the indoors outside.
First, you’ll need to be careful not to introduce too much weight on to your balcony. If it’s a new-build, you can ask the developer for more information on the materials used and its load-bearing capacity. But always avoid putting heavy containers in the centre of the balcony, leaving them at the edges where there is more support, and if in doubt ask a surveyor to assess it.
Give some thought to whether your balcony is south-facing and gets scorching hot mid-summer, as this will influence your choice of plants. Also, it if is high up and catches the wind, you may want to add some screening.
Don’t buy large containers made from heavy materials, such as concrete, stone and terracotta but pick lightweight pots made wood, fibreglass or metal – try to avoid plastic pots unless they are recycled. You can also buy special lightweight compost.
As there isn’t much space, use every inch of wall and railing space to hang pockets of vertical planters.
When it comes to planting you could grow your own vegetables, which is so popular now. Any fruit or vegetable that can grow in a container and doesn’t spread too wildly can work – for example, tomatoes, spring onions, garlic, carrots or French beans. And don’t forget herbs, such as chives, rosemary and thyme, so you can pop out for a sprig or two while you’re cooking.
When it comes to fruit, strawberries are a good choice and you can pick up dwarf fruit trees – apple or fig, for example.
The Royal Horticultural Society recommends choosing plants that tolerate the wind and sun, with a smaller leaf surface so less water evaporates. So it suggests needle-like pines, grasses or brooms; those with small leaves like cotoneasters; and hairy plants like lavender. It also recommends low-growing plants that will be less affected by winds and dwarf spring-flowering bulbs.
If you’re out of a lot – or are not that green-fingered – it’s hard to go wrong with cacti and succulents or evergreens, such as box or bay.
Think about how you’ll water your balcony garden. If you’re out of the house a lot, consider fitting a discreet automatic irrigation system that will drip-feed water to your plants, and buy a hose to fix to the kitchen sink to make light work of daily watering during the summer.
Last but not least, if you’re selling, remember to show off your lush new balcony on your 360° virtual viewings.