Sunday 17 December 2017

No garden? No Problem

Even the smallest urban space can become a blooming outdoor oasis if you approach it in the right way

Diana Valentine: ‘Think outside the box for ways to add personality and colour’. Photo: Tony Gavin
Diana Valentine: ‘Think outside the box for ways to add personality and colour’. Photo: Tony Gavin

Nathalie Marquez Courtney

For an increasing number of people, gardening is taking place in less traditional places; balconies, roof terraces, courtyards and patios are all becoming fair game as the types of homes we live in become more varied. And although balconies come with their fair share of challenges, they offer great potential too.

Urban gardens

Mark Grehan, garden designer and owner of Dublin flower shop The Garden (thegarden.ie), has turned his Dublin 8 roof terrace into a lush and vibrant outdoor space, filled with grasses, succulents and trees. His kitchen window looks out on to a seasonal set-up: tulips in springtime, herbs - like mint, basil and coriander - in the summer, and brassica cabbages and hardy cyclamen in winter.

Mark Grehan: 'Look out for plants that would work well beside the seaside — they are used to strong breezes and can endure windy balcony conditions'
Mark Grehan: 'Look out for plants that would work well beside the seaside — they are used to strong breezes and can endure windy balcony conditions'

The walls of Mark's terrace are painted in a matte finish 'Stiffkey Blue' by Farrow & Ball, a rich inky hue that not only contrasts beautifully with the tones of the olive trees and grasses he has planted, but also carries his colour scheme from indoors to out, making the space feel like a natural extension of his apartment. "I wanted it to become like another room," he says. "It's lovely to come home after a busy day and potter out there for a little bit, or sit out reading the paper and having coffee on a Sunday morning. It can be just as rewarding as a traditional garden."

When it came to picking what to plant, as with any outdoor space, Mark considered the elements. "Wind is the main thing, especially because we're so high up," he explains. "That limits the plants that you can choose." He opted for grasses like Stipas, as well as birch and olive trees "for height and to add a bit of drama". When picking plants, look out for ones that would work well beside the seaside, Mark advises, as they are used to strong breezes and can endure windy balcony conditions.

Balcony room

Mark has noticed an increasing interest in balcony gardening over the years. "There have been so many new developments created, people now have different nooks and crannies and different sorts of set-ups," he notes. "More and more people are starting to live in apartments earlier, and for longer too."

Diana Valentine, owner of online concept store home-lust.com is another keen urban gardener. "I like living the lemonade lifestyle in the summer," she says, "So my balcony gets a complete revamp whenever I'm satisfied the Irish weather is going to cooperate."

Colourful contrast: Mark Grehan has turned his balcony into a lush outdoor space
Colourful contrast: Mark Grehan has turned his balcony into a lush outdoor space

To enjoy greenery in her balcony year-round, Diana maintains an evergreen base of shrubs and miniature trees like rhododendrons, yuccas, palms, olive, eucalyptus and bay trees. "They also act as privacy screens," she adds.

Diana starts growing plants in a miniature indoor greenhouse in the spring, before dotting the young plants in their own pots all over the balcony. She also plants a practical assortment of lavender, oregano, sage, rosemary, mint and basil "to use for cooking and cocktails during the summer," alongside lots of colourful summer flowers like nasturtiums and poppies.

Style your outdoor space

Once the temperature gets over 15 degrees, it's time to make the most of your balcony with some clever styling. "I like to spruce up the decked terrace with a fresh lick of paint in some coastal shade of green or blue, and start getting my collection of miniature pots and plants together," says Diana. "I used to collect colourful pots from vintage shops, but I realised that they upstaged the plants too much, so I now go for a calming and consistent colour range that accentuates the shape and lushness of the greenery." For a speedy revamp, she recommends laying down slatted timber decking squares from the likes of B&Q, Homebase or Ikea.

Irish balconies tend to be small, so keep furniture slimline, and to a minimum. "Add colour with removable cushions, quilts and rugs in interesting patterns and happy colours for a cool boho look," advises Diana. Really lean into the space as a place for relaxing and entertaining, and think outside the box for ways to add personality and colour. "I have an outdoor bar cart, which gets a lot of use from summer to winter," she says.

Mark Grehan's balcony garden
Mark Grehan's balcony garden

"It holds coloured glassware that shimmers in the sunshine and lots of miniature succulents in concrete pots - it looks pretty amazing when all the candles and lanterns are lit on summer nights."

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