Balcony Garden Ideas for Beginners
Balcony gardening is becoming more and more popular, with living space increasingly at a premium and highrise-dwelling gardeners determined to get the best out of every inch of growing space. Your balcony garden can provide a relaxing space for you to unwind after work, somewhere to entertain guests, a welcome haven for urban wildlife and even a source of fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs - the sky's the limit! We’ve been taking a look at some inspiring examples that prove you don’t need to have your feet on the ground to grow all your favourite plants. Here are our top balcony gardening ideas for beginners.
- Balcony gardening basics
- Best pots for balconies
- Nature gardening
- Best plants for balconies
- Balcony garden inspiration
Balcony gardening basics
So you’ve got your lovely new balcony - a blank canvas ready to be filled with beautiful verdant life - but hold up a second! There are a few things you need to know before you start.
Sun, sun, sun
Your balcony, believe it or not, has its own microclimate. It’s more sheltered and gets more sun than a garden on the ground, so although this means you’ll have to water your plants more regularly, it also means you can grow less hardy plants outdoors, such as citrus trees, grapes, passion flowers, tomatoes and mediterranean herbs, with greater success. As a guide, Jason Williams (The Cloud Gardener) says that his eighteenth floor balcony is “about fifteen degrees warmer on a sunny day.”
Hans Gruber is not your role model
Depending on the layout and position of your balcony, it could get windy up there. Make sure any pots you put on it (and especially on the railings) can’t blow away or fall to their doom like Die Hard for plants. You can make sure they stay put by drilling holes in your pots and fastening them to the railings with strong garden wire.
If you do get a lot of wind on your balcony, you can improve this by using screens of potted bamboo or tall grasses as a windbreak. A windy environment (especially salt winds like you find in seaside locations) can be very drying for your plants, so if this sounds like your balcony, you should consider plants that adapt well to a coastal environment, such as Sea Buckthorn, euonymus, acers, blackberries and wild roses.
Keeping the neighbours sweet
It’s a good idea to take a look at your balcony to see how much weight it can take. Concrete or metal constructions will be able to take more than wooden balconies, for example, and those with a room underneath are sturdier than those attached to the side of a building. The last thing you want is your beautiful potted tree crashing through six floors of your neighbours’ balconies like an anvil in a Looney Tunes cartoon. Likewise, watch out when you’re watering anything on your railings - no-one wants an impromptu shower from the flat above when they’re trying to catch some sun.
The best pots for balconies
If weight is an issue on your balcony, you’ll want to stick to lightweight plastic pots - or if you’d rather keep it plastic free, wooden planters or willow baskets are also good (but make sure they’re waterproof so they won’t rot). Your containers don’t need to be expensive - have a look around in alleyways and skips to see what you can upcycle into a plant pot. You can drill holes in them to provide drainage or to tie them to railings.
Nature gardening on a balcony
A block of flats isn’t the most obvious place you’d expect to find wildlife, but it’s surprising how many creatures will show up once you start planting. A balcony provides a safe space free from predators for birds, and any plant that has berries or seeds will bring them flocking. Some of the best are native trees with brightly coloured fruit like rowans and crabapples.
If you’re growing fruit and vegetables it’s especially important to attract pollinators including bees, butterflies, moths and beetles, which will help your plants to blossom and produce fruit. Their favourite plants are those with single, easily accessible flowers, including lavender, salvia, foxgloves and verbena (discover more here). Add a container pond or even just a saucer of water to give thirsty insects a drink too.
Perfect balcony garden plants
What can you plant on a balcony? Basically if it can go in a pot, you can grow it on a balcony. Bear in mind that if you’re looking out at this garden all year round, it’s a good idea to choose plants that will look lovely for as much of the year as possible - that means plenty of evergreens, plants with good autumn colour and choosing a selection of plants that flower at different times of year, so you can swap the pots around according to what’s in season. Tempting as it is, try not to overcrowd your balcony, as the sun needs to be able to reach all of them. These are some of our top choices for balconies - they’re compact, grow well in pots and provide plenty of interest, whether you’re looking for colour, scent, edible produce or wildlife appeal.
Climbers for balconies
Climbing plants are a balcony classic, saving space and looking fantastic from your window as well as from the street. The best balcony climbers are those with a strong fragrance, so you can sit and enjoy it on a summer evening. Use your railings as a trellis - as your plants grow, they’ll provide you with more privacy and soften outside noise - but avoid very strong, woody or vigorous climbers like wisteria.
If you’re renting and not allowed to attach anything to the outer walls, avoid self-clinging climbers like ivy and choose plants like clematis, roses and honeysuckle, which will grow on a freestanding trellis, through railings or up an obelisk in a pot. Our climbing plant grower Mollie has more great ideas.
Herbs for balconies
Compact, fragrant and edible, herbs might just be the ideal plants to grow on your balcony, especially if it’s south or west facing. You can use pots of different sizes and even hanging baskets to create an edible garden which will also give fragrance and visual appeal to your seating area. Grow the herbs you use the most and snip off a few fresh leaves whenever you need them. Annual and mediterranean herbs like basil, oregano and parsley will thrive on a balcony while perennial herbs such as rosemary, thyme and mint will stick around year after year. Perennial herbs are easy to divide or grow from cuttings too, giving you more plants for less outlay.
Pollinator friendly perennials
These long lasting flowering plants are a balcony essential - not only do they bring all the colour, but they’ll attract the bees to pollinate your edible crops. Grow a good selection of varieties that will attract different bee and butterfly species and which flower at different times of the year, then arrange them as you would a garden border, with low growing plants in front of taller varieties in an assortment of differently sized pots.
Mini pond plants
You can make a mini pond in even the smallest of containers - make sure you have a good mix of oxygenators, marginals and floating plants to keep the water clean and the pond looking beautiful. You can even add a floating solar fountain to bring the relaxing sound of moving water to your space.
Fruit and vegetables
There are lots of fruit and vegetable varieties specially bred for growing in small spaces and containers, and you’ve got an added advantage with the warmer, more sheltered growing conditions on a balcony. This means that sun loving crops like soft fruits, herbs, tomatoes, peppers and chillies do especially well. You could even add a slimline mini greenhouse to make the most of a sunny wall.
Whether it’s fruit trees or ornamentals you choose, there are plenty of dwarf and patio trees you can grow in pots on a balcony. As well as looking great and attracting wildlife, your trees can be a valuable source of shade in the summer as well as giving you more privacy from your near neighbours and softening traffic noise.
More balcony garden inspiration
Since the RHS introduced balcony gardens as a show category at Chelsea, Hampton Court and Tatton Park, there’s been an explosion of interest in balcony gardening in the UK. There are some great planting ideas in these gardens from Chelsea 2023. For inspiration in situ (eighteen floors up) I love what Jason Williams (The Cloud Gardener) has done with this highrise haven in Manchester, especially the climbing plant arches and the container pond.
Similarly, this relaxing split level balcony in London has plenty of clever space saving features that could be applied to different balcony layouts.There’s a well established tradition in countries like Spain and Italy for growing ‘hanging gardens’ from the balconies of apartment buildings, so if you love the Mediterranean style, there are plenty of great ideas to be had here.