Pyrus nivalis, I use this tree more often than any other. I use…
Balcony gardens can be tricky. There are space considerations, for one. More importantly, the weather can impact dramatically because balcony plants often receive either full sun or total shade and can be in relatively windy positions. But there is a wide range of plants suitable for balconies. You need plants that are tough and tolerate climate extremes while still fitting in with the style of your apartment or house and its interiors.
For most people, space is at a premium so plants that are well-contained and don’t sprawl are good choices. Try Liriope ‘Evergreen Giant’, which grows neat and upright, Gardenia augusta ‘Florida’, which has shiny leaves and highly scented flowers, or Phormium tenax ‘Maori Chief’, for its stunning pink-and-grey variegated leaves. Cordylines are fantastic for balconies – Cordyline baueri ‘Red Sensation’ or Cordyline australis ‘Purpurea’ both have striking burgundy-and-brown strappy, architectural foliage. If they grow too tall, prune the single stem back so the plant produces multiple shoots, forming low clumps at the base. The Dragon Tree (Dracaena draco) is a dramatic plant that has a similar habit to cordylines but is grey-green in colour. It works well as an accent or focal point on the balcony. A favourite is the giant bromeliad (Vriesea imperialis), which has burgundy-and-green foliage and tolerates full sun or full shade.
Life in a pot can be a dry affair so opt for long-lasting succulents. At my place I grow and collect a wide range of succulents in an equally wide range of pots. All intentionally contrast from each in form and leaf colour, no two are the same, nor are the pots that they are planted in. Succulents prefer a dry climate with semi shaded conditions, they suffer in humidity. The wide range of Crassula sp does well in pots – I like crassula glaucoma and C ovata, they’re drought hardy so do well in pots, and there leaves are cheerful. If you are bored with Agave attenuata, try Crassula ovata, with its round, red-rimmed leaves, or Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’, which has a rosette leaf arrangement with burgundy leaves on the outside.
Don’t forget other wind-tolerant plants such as the huge range of Metrosideros species. If you want to use planter boxes to create a “hedge” to hide a balcony wall, Metrosideros ‘Thomasii’ (it has a red beautiful flower and is clipped to 2 metres tall) or the Metrosideros ‘Tahiti’ (with purple-silver foliage clipped to a metre tall) will work well. For a classic look, many conifers do well in pots. Juniperus virginiana ‘Spartan’ (left) forms an excellent potted screen (use a long, narrow variety) and won’t outgrow the pot too quickly.
Remember, anything will grow in a pot but more watering is needed than for in-ground plants. Also, your plants may need regular clipping or pruning so it’s tougher to maintain their visual appeal.
I prefer my pots to be charcoal with the pot design to be subtle so that the plant stands out not the pot, unless you want to make a statement with them.