Residential high-rises are relatively new in UK (the first being ‘The Lawn’ in Harlow in 1951). So, the concept of gardening at height is also new. People often struggle to know what to do with their balconies, so they are often underused and underappreciated.
A beautiful balcony can enhance your view and enrich what you look at any time of year. It adds value as an important asset to your apartment and creates a room to use as an additional living space.
Ideas for residents and developers
It is important to take into consideration these points when designing a balcony that everyone will enjoy:
There are a limited number of days where the sun shines in the UK. Designs need to take into account that residents will be looking out onto their balcony space (rather than being on them) for a lot of the year.
Planting on balconies is very different to growing in a typical garden. Plants which thrive at ground level will not always be successful in a balcony container.
Before designing, be sure to understand direction the balcony is facing (full sun, some sun or shady) and what the weather conditions are like in the different seasons.
Wind on a balcony is experienced very differently than on the ground – wind enters the balcony and creates eddies and can be a lot stronger than at ground level.
Use simple cell structured plants that have small leaves - lavender, grasses, dwarf conifers like juniper, rosemary, pittosporum, calocephalus - for example – to withstand the weather. Damage from wind and transpiration (how water evaporates from leaves) is significant at higher levels. Wind will take the water out of the leaves quicker than they can draw it from the earth.
While an English country garden is unlikely to succeed on a balcony because of the weather, it is possible to create amazing spaces.
For residents, the first step to making a balcony an oasis is to think of it as a room like any other in a home. Three points to bear in mind are:
How am I going to use it?
How often am I going to use it?
How much time do I have to maintain it?
For developers, this is an opportunity to integrate balcony garden ideas into the early-stage design. A lot of thinking goes into the design and landscaping around the building, but not everyone in a high-rise building will have a green space, water or landscaping to look out on. Creating an oasis to step out into from an apartment is key to making use of all space in an apartment as well as treating it as a refuge.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on balcony gardens
During the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic many balconies became oases of wellbeing. With an increase in working from home and government restrictions on movement, the balcony was the only outdoor space for many.
Many more people used their balconies as an alternative to going out. They were eating outside, doing yoga, reading, listening to music and growing edibles. It proves the opportunities are many and varied.
Using balconies for recreational and pleasure purposes is the perfect solution to limited use of outside spaces. If offers the opportunity to maximise the enjoyment of the weather without the risk posed by COVID-19. It is added value built into the package. Let’s hope that all those balconies are used and loved well beyond the pandemic.
This article is based on an interview with Philip Dundas, Founder and Creative Director of Balcon.me. Philip is a landscape gardener and balcony designer. He formed BalconMe in 2018 to take his landscaping expertise to design landscapes for balconies.