A balcony, however small, can be transformed into a valuable visual extension of the living area it adjoins. A well-equipped balcony can be enjoyed all year long as a pleasant place to tend a few plants and flowers, sit or entertain in the summer.
Styling a Balcony
Using the same flooring inside and out is one of the simplest and most effective ways of integrating a balcony garden with an adjoining room. Standing a few potted plants on the interior flooring will strengthen the link by bringing outside in. Use the same style of furniture you have inside on the balcony, or just take a few of your usual chairs outside (this will solve the problem of storing extra furniture), and continue your interior color scheme outside by painting walls in the same or similar shades.
Lighting your balcony artificially (either from outside or inside) will enable you to extend its use on summer evenings. But whatever the time of year, sympathetic lighting will enhance a balcony garden after dark, making it a view in its own right or providing an interesting foreground to the city lights that lie beyond.
Shade and Shelter
Awnings, a large umbrella, or roller shades are the obvious ways to provide shade. But plants can be useful as well as decorative. Shrubs, like boxwood, or climbers, such as ivy, trained up trellises, fencing, or over railings, will provide shelter from the wind and a measure of privacy, as well as obscuring unwanted views. If you have a lot of plants, try to install a hose nearby to facilitate watering.
If you devise a scheme that involves structural changes, make sure you obtain any necessary permits and consult a structural engineer about the weight capacity of your balcony.
The Best Balcony Plants and Flowers
Plants on balconies, roofs, and high window ledges are exposed to far greater extremes of heat, cold, and wind than those at ground level.
The wind not only buffets plants, but dehydrates the soil in which they are grown—an effect intensified by the sun. However, there is a considerable range of plants that are able to survive such inhospitable conditions, and many others that can survive a season, or longer, if shelter is provided by a fence, canvas windbreak, or tough shrub, such as a juniper bush. Plants grown in containers (as those grown above ground level are likely to be) have a limited nutrient and moisture reserve, so always use a nutrient-rich, moisture-retentive potting mix and water frequently.
Tough Permanent Planting
Tough, shrubby material can be used to give year-round interest, and to shelter you and your less-hardy plants from the wind. Look to those that are adapted to survive conditions on open ground, such as on open land, mountainsides, or by the sea. All the brooms are tough (Cytisus spp., Genista spp., and Spartium spp.), as are the gorse family (Ulex spp.), various heaths and heathers, evergreen and “evergray” herbs, most conifers and many grasses. Climbers in exposed locations are likely to take a considerable beating from the wind, so stick to deciduous ones (these are naturally tougher than evergreens), such as Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus spp.) and honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.). Alternatively, use resilient evergreen climbers like ivy (Hedera spp.).
Plants for Seasonal Interest
Many plants will survive a season on a balcony, window ledge, or rooftop, particularly if they can be given shelter and are well cared for. Mass spring and summer bulbs and annuals in containers to add a flamboyant dash of seasonal color. Plants with a daisy flower are usually tough; these range from the smallest blue daisy (Felicia spp.), through to the exuberant yellow Rudbeckia spp., and a long-standing favorite, white Leucanthemum x superbum.