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Gardening ideas for balconies, patios & courtyards

Martyn Cox / 15 October 2014 ( 16 February 2017 )

Find out how to turn even the smallest space, from balconies to tiny courtyards and patios, into flourishing gardens.

Small balcony garden
The more sheltered the balcony, the wider selection of plants you can grow

Don’t despair if you’re strapped for space. It’s possible to create an attractive garden in the tiniest of plots by choosing the right plants and by making the most of every available surface, whether you’ve got a patio, balcony or your growing area merely consists of a window ledge.


Growing plants in window boxes

Even if you don’t have a traditional garden the chances are you’ll have a sunny ledge or two that could accommodate a window box.

These trough-shaped containers suit a wide variety of compact or shallow rooting plants. You could change the display on a regular basis by planting with seasonal annual flowers, but for something longer lasting, try using a framework of permanent plants leaving some gaps for seasonal blooms. 

Among plants you could try mixing together are begonias, gerberas, busy lizzies, ivies, pansies, fuchsias, helichrysum, heathers, dwarf conifers, hostas and ferns.

Alternatively, use window boxes to raise edibles. Compact herbs, such as chives, tarragon, parsley, rosemary, sage, mint, thyme, basil, parsley and oregano are ideal, as are low-growing fruit and vegetables. Try strawberries, bush tomatoes, salad leaves, radish, stump-rooted carrots and beetroot.

Window boxes come in many sizes, so before buying measure up your ledge to ensure your chosen model will fit. If your windowsills are high up on a building, either fix to wall brackets or make sure they are held securely to prevent them accidentally toppling off.

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Balcony planters

Balcony gardens

Want to grow plants on a balcony, but think the conditions are too inhospitable? Well, even the most windswept of spaces can be turned into an attractive hi-rise growing area. All you need to do is raise low-growing plants in pots that can be easily protected from strong gusts, such as herbs, alpines or drought-tolerant succulents.

The more sheltered the balcony, the wider selection of plants you can grow. Perennials, bulbs, bamboos, grasses and well-behaved climbers can all be raised. However, don’t cram it with specimens as it will make the balcony feel claustrophobic.

If your balcony is enclosed by metal railings consider using them as supports for climbing plants and vegetables. Alternatively, attach windowboxes to the uprights with brackets.

If weight is an issue with your balcony, grow plants in lightweight plastic pots.

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Vertical planting

Patios and courtyards

Small trees, shrubs and just about any other plant can be grown in pots on a patio. Where space is really tight, underplant larger specimens with low-growing plants to really make the most of every available centimetre. For instance, trailing nasturtiums, herbs or fast-growing leafy salads look great when planted around the base of a containerised standard tree.

Take advantage of your vertical space. There are many clever growing kits available that allow you to grow flowers and edibles on walls and fences, such as The Vertical Allotment - it consists of a wall-mounted frame that holds five rectangular planting troughs. Available from Tree Box.

Try one of these patio garden themes:

Courtyard cottage garden
Courtyard zen garden
Courtyard Japanese-style garden
Courtyard contemporary garden
Courtyard classical formal garden
Courtyard wildlife garden
Courtyard exotic garden
Courtyard coastal garden

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.