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COMPACT BY DESIGN: BALCONY AND PATIO GARDENS





Something that has been catching my eye in recent months – well, not catching my eye so much as delivering a virtual uppercut squarely to my jaw – is the dramatic escalation in balcony and patio gardening, both of which are linked, in many cases, as much to the indoor garden as they are to outdoor garden and also to plant adoption on an unprecedented scale. I say plant adoption in all earnestness because, as we are getting to know, with the new tsunami that is plant parenting, plants are no longer purchased or shared so much as adopted into the family, especially by that generation known as the millennials. Something that has been catching my eye in recent months – well, not catching my eye so much as delivering a virtual uppercut squarely to my jaw – is the dramatic escalation in balcony and patio gardening, both of which are linked, in many cases, as much to the indoor garden as they are to outdoor garden and also to plant adoption on an unprecedented scale. I say plant adoption in all earnestness because, as we are getting to know, with the new tsunami that is plant parenting, plants are no longer purchased or shared so much as adopted into the family, especially by that generation known as the millennials.

Conventional wisdom has it that a person can have too many plants and this can result in horticultural overcrowding and foliar claustrophobia, but this notion has been turned on its head and it is becoming more and more commonplace for social mediarites to be proudly posting “selfies” showing rooms, bathrooms, conservatories, balconies and patios overflowing with lush foliage. Let me be clear on this point – the settings are not backdrops for said selfies - the subject is literally embedded within the enfolding mass of flora, an integrated part of the whole.

Predominantly, though not exclusively, younger people are finding new levels of comfort, seclusion and connection in being embraced by dense planting wherever they lay their proverbial hat, and this is tending to be more in the apartment space than anywhere else. This full look is now gaining traction and is likely to set the tone for indoor, balcony and patio gardening well into the future.

Some Most Necessary Space Distinctions

We often talk about “balcony and patio” design and gardening spaces as though the two are easily and seamlessly interchangeable, but there are probably as many distinctions that differentiate the two as there are those that make them similar, to wit:

· Both spaces are usually of small and limited size and scope although patios are often larger than balconies.

· They both basically comprise hard artificial surfaces that serve as the floor. In this instance, patios do allow for a measure of excavation into the hard surface whereas balconies have no such flexibility.

· They are commonly both adjoined to or integrated with the main architecture although patios can be separate from the main architecture as features in their own right.

· Both spaces are either partially enclosed or fully enclosed. Some of the enclosure is made of glass or Plexiglas and can serve a conservatory purpose.

· Both spaces lend themselves to a measure of designer screening

· Balconies are more often raised off the ground, sometimes to staggering heights – this changes the sense of outlook and vista –both from the perspective of “up looking down” and vice versa.

· Light source can be quite limited in both, but patios do allow for multiple open sides and possible sky lighting.

· Patios can carry more weight whereas raised floating or cantilevered balconies are restricted in load-bearing capacity.

· Patios have more potential entry and exit points

· Plants and features can be planted around the outside of patios for aesthetic support whereas, balconies need to be much more self-contained to make their own impact.

· Drainage and spill-over is easier on a patio than a balcony

Plants that Fit the Bill

In an indoor room, conservatory or even bathroom space there seems to be a preference, when selecting foliage, for the calming greens and greys with white accents and understated colour splashes. Some balconies, however, are veritable explosions of colour and this belies the trend towards a more sedate and calming preference. In many ways, this means that the choices really are as wide-ranging as the options available. There really is, therefore, something out there for everyone.

Succulent plants have become one of the favourites in small patio and balcony spaces, and they fill the spaces from well-lit indoor conservatories to brightly lit balcony and patios.

Ferns also feature quite strongly in the plant palette and this comes as no surprise, being, as they are, one of the perennial favourite indoor house and bathroom plant ranges for many moons. Without necessarily wanting to pick out individuals over al the other options, it must be said that the tried and tested Chlorophytum comosum aka variegated Hen-and-Chickens or Spider Plant, is featuring strongly as always; the undemanding approach to growing these plants indoors, propagating ease, and cascading form makes this plant a “best fit” in most balcony and patio gardens.

Tillandsia, known commonly as air plants, are a definite must for the new generation of balcony and patio garden surrogates and we have seen these becoming something of a new wave horticultural art form in recent years. The flowing Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is a definite front-runner with spectacular support from many other available air plants out there today.

For whatever reason, I have seen Sansieveria aka Mother-in-laws-Tongue or Snake Plant emerging as a firm favourite among indoor and balcony plant parents and this is not really surprising. From a pure horticultural perspective, as an ideal indoor and balcony plant for well-lit areas, as well as the contemporary architectural design appeal, this plant fits the bill ideally. Sanseveria also fits well into many plant design compositions so it’s flexibility as to form, height and contrast is exemplary.

Other well-known favourites like Monstera deliciousa (Swiss Cheese Plant) and Elephants Ear (Colocasia esculenta) as well as other Colocasia varieties, not to mention all the available Phiodendrons, still feature very strongly as trusted friends. New and exotic indoor options appear almost daily and this makes the plant adopting experience an exciting adventure indeed.

Design Daring

Design of these spaces must take the lead from signals and preferences being given out from the occupants. In an unexpected twist, the whole mantra of “less is more” has been turned inside out somewhat to an emphatic chant of “more is more”. Indoor spaces, balconies and patios, strung liberally with bright growing lights, are seen crammed with lush indoor plants of all varieties. Sunny balconies burst forth in bright, carnival colours – the rims spilling over in all directions.

The design brief is a simple one – fill the space with floral life in all of the three dimensions. Funky and unique planters reflecting amusing and often eccentric themes are the order of the day. Repurposed shelving, sideboards and furniture of all varieties are being salvaged, spruced and used in the space to fill available walls with pots, planters and ornaments. The comfy chair snuggling within the luxuriance seems to have become not only ubiquitous, but mandatory. Wall décor that reflects idiosyncratic personality is ever present and eclectic ornaments that peek from under spilling foliage are spoils of a new form of playful treasure hunt. Coloured trellis features strongly in these small portals of paradise and these can often be festooned with all manner of sconce-type planters and gambolling air plants of all forms, sizes and colours..

Macramé has made a stealthy comeback and now features pervasively in many small spaces providing that Art & Craft touch to plants suspended playfully from the ceiling. Hanging baskets, pedestals and all manner of devices to support plants within the inner space find a comfortable home in these amazing, luscious plant havens.

I must say that I am thrilled by this turn of events. At one point, many thought that the love of the houseplant as a necessary piece of living décor was dwindling to oblivion – little were we to know how pleasantly wrong we were, and that a new and exciting breath of vibrant and passionate life was to be blasted so intensely and ardently into this age-old tradition. The day of the incidental décor item is passed and the era of plants as the favourite child has arrived. The offerings in balcony, patio and indoor spaces that we are seeing today are perhaps, in so many ways, making our efforts of yesteryear pale by comparison and I for one am delighted.

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