THE BALCONY AND WINDOW BOXES
Most balconies in modern blocks of flats are built to take a lot of weight- but they are so tiny it's difficult to exploits this advantage. You may manage to fit in a small-scale table and chairs, as in the tiny picture opposite; but you may only be able to treat it as an extended window box. Even if this is all you intend, it's possible your landlord or the local authority has placed restrictions on gardening activities, either limiting the number and type of plants you can grow, or banning their presence altogether.
Presuming you are free to do what you like, much will depend on the type of balustrade. If it's a solid wall, you will find yourself restricted by the lack of light below. You could put troughs right along the base of the wall, and grow shade-loving plants like ivies and host as - perhaps sticking to climbing ivies if your balcony is very shallow, because they won't project and get in the way. You could also try an evergreen honeysuckle, which likes its feet in the shade and its face in the sun, though it will need to be given something to climb up. It would of course, be a mistake to put window boxes on top of the wall- not only because they would block light to the room beyond, but because they are potentially lethal if they topple onto passers- by below.
If your balcony has an open-railed balustrade, you can fill the troughs with sun-loving flowers, creating the equivalent of a narrow herbaceous border. You can also include some trailers to spill over the edge of the balcony. However, unless the room below is also yours, avoid any really rapid grower like Russian Vine (Polygonum baldschuanicum), that would soon obscure other people's view. I |veer geraniums would look superb in summer without going on the rampage.
A Bower of flowers
If your balcony is completely enclosed at both ends, you can exploit the end walls full by creating a series of floor-to-ceiling steps, with a trough of plants upon each one. It this eats up too much floor space, you can simply fix shelves so the plants rise one above the other. Then if there is enough headroom you can hang pots and baskets high up on the wall of the house, where you won't brush past them as you walk. This way you will have plants at every level: at your feet at waist and eye level and above your head.
In the case of a partly enclosed balcony where the end walls don't afford complete privacy from your neighbors, you can train climbing plants up the sides and along the top to create a self contained arbor of greenery. Or more simply you can stand pot grown trees or raised shrubs at both ends. For al year round privacy choose evergreens. Bay trees rhododendrons, Portuguese laurels and ammonia japonica will all thrive in containers with relatively little attention.
In older houses where a balcony may only be the roof of the bay window below you are safest treating it as a walk in window box because it as a walk in window box because it probably won't be strong enough to take much weight. All the advice for a lightweight roof garden holds good here as does the information in the window box section.
Window boxes brighten up the exterior of a house as well as brightening up the view from inside, and create maximum impact from minimum space. They are easiest to install if you have a window ledge, but although this should preferably face south or west there are plenty of shade loving plants for other points of the compass.
Any window ledge must be deep enough to take a box safely. The box should be tailored to fit the space as nearly as possible, and if it has drainage holes, it should be raised by short legs, or blocks of wood, so that air can circulate underneath. In this case, there should ideally be room for a fixed drip-tray, so that excess water doesn't splatter people or windows below. Above all, though, the box should be made absolutely secure, either by means of brackets, a safety rail, cementing to the walls, or a hook and eye arrangement. This is really important even at first floor windows, because a window box can kill or cause injury when falling from a relatively low height.
If your window has no ledge, or the windows open outwards you can hang the box from the wall below the window-a job best done professionally in view of the safety aspect. Gardening will be easier at the lower height, but it's best to forget about drainage holes because it will be impossible to attach a drip tray. Sadly, if your windows open outwards, it will also be impossible to see the flowers from inside, because you will need to restrict yourself to low-growing plants.
Window boxes are made from various materials, including terracotta clay, concrete, plastic, fibreglass and wood. Designs range from the plain to elaborate 18th-and 19th-century reproductions, but unless tour home demands a particular period, or you are limiting yourself to evergreens only, you will find flowers look best in a simple setting. An unobtrusive colour will make life easier too. A brightly- coloured plastic window box, for instance, demands that you make it look intentional by relating it to the colour of flowers, external paintwork and curtains.
If you prefer a wooden window box, it will either need painting inside and out, or treating with a suitable wood preservative-not creosote, which is liable to poison the plants. Some wooden boxes come with inner containers, but these are primarily intended for indoor use, and rule out the possibility of having drainage holes.
Good drainage is essential in window boxes because too much trapped moisture can turn the soil sour. Actual drainage holes are recommended, though not absolutely vital, but whether you have them or not, it is important to cover the bottom of the box with a 2.5 cm (1 in) layer of broken flower pots, stones or brick rubble. This should be covered with coarse compost or peat, to retain moisture and prevent fine soil washing through. Only then should you fill the box with the growing soil-not tired old soil dug up from a friend's garden, but soil recommended for your plants by a nursery. If you can, prepare the window box at least a week before planting, to enable it to settle. Plants like to get their roots into something firm, rather then grope around trying to get a grip.
Where there is heavy air pollution, you may need to renew the soil every year, although a few pieces of charcoal in the compost, peat or soil will absorb harmful gases and keep the earth sweet. You should certainly add charcoal if your box lacks drainage holes, because it will help to alleviate the lack.
Because window boxes-like all plant containers-are too small to accommodate much soil, plants will soon exhaust the supply of nutrients. It will be necessary to feed them. Bonemeal is a gentle, long-lasting fertilizer and perhaps better suited to the heavy-handed than one of the more powerful liquid feeds. Unless the latter are administered exactly as the instructions stipulate, you will get a short spurt of growth followed by a sorry collapse.
Window boxes are easy to fill with bedding plants during the summer. petunias, begonias, lobelia, geraniums, marigolds, nasturtiums, fuchsia, etc. will provide a profligate riot of colour, and flower for months provided you dead-head them. Indeed, if money is no object, you can leave them in their pots, sink them in moist peat rather than soil, and replace them with new the moment they pass their peak. In winter, the time people really need cheering up, many window boxes get left full of summer's sad corpses or emptied and left as depressing hulks. The way around this is to provide a basis of evergreens to provide colour during the winter months but form a quiet background to flowers during the summer. (Of course, the same is true of all container-grown gardens, whether at ground, balcony or rooftop level.)
At its simplest, this could be a row of dwarf conifers, under planted with trailing variegated ivy. Then you could also under plant with spring bulbs, extricating them gently once they have flowered, and filling the gaps with your favorite summer plants. Most herbs need a good supply of sun in order to grow successfully, and a window box on a south-facing ledge might seem an ideal place for these useful plants. Be wary, however, of which herbs you choose. Some, like mint, sage and tarragon take up a lot of root-space- mint in particular should have a container to itself to restrict its roots. As all herbs require a lot of light, it may not be practical to plant them in a window box already inhabited by miniature evergreens, so bear in mind that a herb window box will be depressingly bare during the winter months.
BRILLIANT TIPS OF ROOF GARDENS
If a roof has been specially constructed to take a conventional garden, it can bear enough soil for a lawn and plants to grow in.
THE OUTSIDE STORY LIVING OUTSIDE
Patios, terraces and paved back gardens should be treated imaginatively to form an extra special outdoor room.
BEST GARDENING IN CONTAINERS
At ground level where weight is not a problem you can build low retaining walls for permanent flower beds
- FURNISHING THE OUTSIDE
The ideal garden furniture looks good, is comfortable, and can be left out all year round but unfortunately it doesn't exist.