Balcony gardens may be bijou, but make no mistake - they can also be a challenge. Getting plant choices correct on a balcony is much like furnishing a small space to make it seem larger than it is. Everything needs to be selected carefully. In the case of a balcony garden, the chosen plants not only need to look good - they also have to be able to grow on a balcony and survive the often extreme conditions they’ll experience.
Foliage plants are usually the safest bet, but what if you want to grow flowers? Is it possible to have a flower-filled balcony garden? Well, of course, the answer is yes - so here's a checklist for choosing your own flowering plants, plus some planting suggestions to get you started.
- Plants need to be sturdy. Avoid brittle plants and also any that need excessive staking.
- Choose dwarf varieties or plants that can be clipped and shaped. These are usually the best to choose, but if you have the room for large containers then grow larger plants - even climbers.
- Look for long flowering. A plant that holds its flowers for a long time or produces lots of flowers over a long period will be the most rewarding choice. Deadhead spent flowers regularly to keep the plant compact and also reduce any mess.
- Avoid prickles and thorns. Although this rules out many roses, it is safest where space is tight to have people-friendly plants that aren’t likely to snag you.
- Evergreen over deciduous. It’s not just the mess that deciduous plants make when they shed their leaves, it’s the long, bare period that follows.
- Annuals are fine. Just be prepared to update them with the seasons and, to avoid any down-time, buy advanced plants that are already blooming when they go in.
- Flowering indoor plants are great for balconies. Many of these grow well in low-light conditions.
- Colour harmonies. Where the space is small and constantly on show, as it is on a balcony, decide on a colour scheme and work with it for a planting that looks good. If you are clever, that scheme could even change with the seasons by selecting annuals that work well with a seasonal shrub.
- Match the plant to its preferred sun or shade conditions. While this is obvious, it is important to be very realistic about how much sun or shade falls on the balcony. Poor flowering or constant trouble with pests such as scale indicate that the plant isn’t happy and needs more sunlight.
With the above checklist in mind, here are some shrubby plants to get you started in your quest for a flower-filled balcony garden. Add more colour with potted bulbs such as ‘Tete a Tete’ mini daffodils and seasonal annuals including dwarf snapdragons, pansies, dwarf cosmos, lobelia to edge pots, petunias and calibrachoas.
There are so many begonias to choose from, but try the angel wings or bedding begonias for long flowering even in low light. An east- to north-facing position is best, but these may even flower in balcony gardens with a southerly aspect.
Bougainvillea ‘Raspberry Ice’
These do come with a thorn warning, but for a warm and sunny balcony with space to climb on a trellis, these are long-flowering and make lots of impact. As well as ‘Raspberry Ice’ there are other compact bougainvilleas sold as Bambinos that can be grown as shrubs.
Camellias are fantastic for balcony gardens, especially dwarf sasanquas such as ‘Little Liane’, which has masses of white flowers on a compact evergreen shrub. Best in bright light, but will grow and flower with morning sun.
This has all the benefits of a murraya – sporadic flowers and fragrance – on a small plant. Look for ‘Min a Min’. Best in very bright light – such as a north-facing balcony – in more shade, murraya have fewer flowers.
These climbers grow well in large containers and bloom for many months producing red, pink or white trumpet-shaped flowers through the warmer months. There are many named varieties. Try boldly coloured ‘Jester’ (deep red with variegated foliage), ‘Crimson Fantasy’ (deep red) or ‘White Fantasy’ (white). Mandevillas can grow in full sun but flower in light shade.
Succulents are grown for their leaves, but they actually have flowers too - and in warm, sunny balcony gardens, their flowers may even help attract busy and pollinating insects. Some of the showiest are the crassulas and kalanchoe. Other succulent-like flowering plants include frangipani and hoya (a climber that’s great for a shady balcony).