I think I get my “green fingers” from my mother. It certainly wasn’t my father who was only interested in gardening AFTER the produce was served on his plate.
My parents separated many years ago and my father is retired in a small ground level city apartment with a tiny rear garden. Getting all day sun and being sheltered by a large fence – there could be no end to the wonders he could plant there. I even bought him some plants and a couple of bags of compost to get started. That was two years ago. When I last visited him I was very disappointed at his results. The garden was as bleak as I remember from the beginning – with the exception of one plant that was thriving despite being totally ignored. Rosemary. This was one of the original herbs I had purchased and now it was an enormous shrub.
Many non-gardeners may be familiar with rosemary in cooking and in particular, it is a favorite when cooking roast lamb. Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean region and, lucky for us, can survive long periods without much water.
When the plant is young the stems are quite soft but these become very stiff and woody as it matures. There are quite a variety of rosemary plants with lots of tiny flowers ranging from whites and pinks through to purples and blues. The leaves are very fragrant – try picking a couple and rubbing them between your fingers. It is a really delicious smell!
I like rosemary as a balcony plant for a number of reasons:
- it’s hard to kill if I forget to water it!
- it smells gorgeous
- it looks gorgeous with its year-round dark green foliage and pretty flowers (the flowers are seasonal in cool climates but can be continuous in warm climates)
- it is handy to the kitchen for use in cooking
- it is a great bbq herb – in fact just throw a few rosemary stalks on to the barbie when you first oil it – toast the rosemary and allow all the flavor to infuse into the oil before you put your meat and veges on to cook
- it also provides great height in your balcony design; due to its erect foliage, rosemary can provide privacy if you arrange a few of them together like a hedge; put them in their individual pots or several together in a long rectangular tub
Rosemary plants can get a bit wild looking as they grow, so don’t be afraid to hack them into shape with your pruners or scissors. This hedge below is quite wild but suited to its outdoor living area while providing privacy and possibly being a good shelter from the wind.
Terracotta pots are so easy to obtain and come in some fascinating shapes and sizes. Their natural clay color is attractive and you may wish to leave them that way, however, they are also a great “canvas” for creative art, allowing you to really create a very unique style on your balcony.
It’s important to understand that terracotta clay is very porous. This means that the moisture from the soil and plants inside can leach out easily to the outside of the pot. I am sure you will have seen old clay pots that look greenish, blackish and quite grubby.
Today I want to focus on those old pots – the ones you can pick up cheap at garage sales – and some of them will be quite dirty looking.
Turning them into something colorful for your balcony is a quick, fun project for the weekend! Children can also get involved by having their own pot to decorate.
Firstly, the pots need cleaning and preparing for paint. Use a small brush – like a nail brush to scrub away any old soil clinging to the pot. Then, give them a light sanding (with sandpaper) both inside and outside to remove all surface grime, moss etc. Take a dry cloth or soft brush to clear away all the dust, ready to apply a sealer. You can buy special terracotta-seal products at your local gardening store, however, any clear acrylic paint – or even a varnish – will do the job. This can then be sprayed or brushed on to the inside of the pot to seal moisture inside and prevent all that discoloring from occurring.
Now, for the fun part! Painting and decorating the outside of the pot. You could purchase test pots of paint in order to have a range of colors. Use a high gloss acrylic paint.
For a more visual step-by-step process I recommend looking at this link:
Sometimes, it is nice to paint the pots a plain color and this might be more your style. A friend of mine painted a very large pot in her garden a bright red (brighter than the one below) and tilted it at an angle amongst the plants. It looked really arty.
But you are not limited to something this conservative! So, I share a few images below to inspire you. The first is from a NZ woman who has decorated her terracotta pots with stunning mosaic work. Would you believe that the second image is a trio of fabric-covered pots? These might be best kept out of the rain! Although, I would be tempted to brush paint a couple of layers of clear varnish over the top and see if they would be okay outside. Click on the images to link through to the websites for more gorgeous images and ideas.
A final word. If you want to buy some stuff online to assist you with your pot decorations, click on the image below. In the meantime, have fun with your pots!
For a bit of inspiration take a look at these gorgeous hotel balconies. (Click on the image to go to the website). Hotels make the absolute most of their outdoor areas. I like to look at their types of planters, the surface of their balcony etc. In particular, it is interesting to note their colors. You don’t always have to have flowers – lots of greenery can be very attractive and provide longer lasting looks through the different seasons.
Watering cans are probably the best (or only) way of watering your balcony plants. Not too many balconies are likely to have an outdoor tap and hose! If space is limited then likely the watering can will also have to live out on the balcony among the plants. For this reason, choose one that will fit in with your theme and colors and become an attraction rather than something awful you have to hide every time you have guests over.
The most important part of your watering can is the “shower head“. Check this carefully when buying your can and look for lots of tiny holes – not large holes. Ideally, you want a fine shower of water for your pots not a gushing of water which could damage your fragile plants.
Why not buy a plain watering can and paint it? You can get creative and paint it to blend in with your plants.
If recycling is important to you then look closely at the home-made watering can in the image above. This is a super idea and you can find out how to make this at http://onecreativemommy.com/diy-watering-can/ .
One more essential purchase for watering: a spray bottle. This creates a fine mist for your plants. I use one daily on my seedlings and micro greens – they are so delicate that I never use the watering can.
For larger plants, spray over them liberally to create moisture in the air – they love this and can draw that moisture in. Also, use the mist spray to clean large leaves and wipe the leaves clean with a soft tissue. Leaves covered in dust or dirt cannot breathe and will be detrimental to your plant’s health.
When starting to create your beautiful balcony – herbs would have to be a first consideration for plants. They are the easiest things to grow – even if you consider yourself a total non-gardener! And of course, it is lovely to have a range of herbs at hand to pick for use in your cooking. Many herbs are also fragrant and this is particularly nice in a small garden area like a balcony. You can really create an amazing little garden with herbs. Oh, and also, they grow fast – so if you get them set up early in spring then within a few weeks your balcony will be overflowing with greenery and delightful scents.
If you are a total beginner, then I recommend buying a few common herbs from your supermarket or local grocer. You can have fun hunting around antique shops and even through your own cupboards to find interesting containers or pots. Simply put the whole herb plant you have bought (still in its plastic bag or plastic container) right into your larger pot. Herbs like parsley, basil, thyme, chives and mint are all great starters.
If you are happy to make a bit more effort, then I recommend buying some Potting Mix from your gardening centre, removing the herbs from their plastic containers and transferring them to the larger pots. You will put a bit of potting mix in the bottom of the larger pot, gently hold your herb plant and as much dirt as possible from its old container, and then fill all the space around with more Potting Mix.
Give your herbs a good watering straight away and allow the excess water to drain from beneath the pot. If your larger pots do not have holes in them for draining – this is not a problem – just be careful not to over-water your herbs.
No matter if your balcony is REALLY small – it can still become another room in your home. Especially in the warmer months, with the addition of a few plants and some colorful decor items as shown in this picture and suddenly you have a delightful space to enjoy a cup of coffee and to feel part of the outdoors. You will see in this image (bottom right) they even have a groovy wee barbeque in colors to match! With space being so limited, they have chosen to put their flower pots on the railing – great idea – although I think I would have preferred wide rectangular window boxes to get more plants in.