Tips for Balcony and Roof Gardening

Is balcony or roof gardening practical?

Rooftop Garden

Roof gardens are idyllic throughout summer; perennial plants in containers can be removed during winter to a less exposed position.

Photo by Federico Rostagno/Fotolia

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Home Gardener's Small Gardens by David Squire (Fox Chapel Publishing, 2016) is the essential guide to improving a small garden and turning the most modest-sized space into a stunning outdoor area. It offers lushly illustrated strategies for making the most of a confined space-whether backyard, terrace or courtyard. Get started with an informative discussion of small garden types, appropriate plants, problems and opportunities, design, and planning. The excitement truly begins with a look at the wide variety of stylistic options. The gardens range from Mediterranean to wildflower, secluded to low-maintenance, container to balcony.

On Top of the World

Roof gardens are popular where the climate allows more than half the year to be spent on it. In other places, despite initial enthusiasm, the reality of a seasonal garden becomes apparent when icy winds roar across the site. Conversely, during summer the area may be exposed to strong, scorching sunlight, which may be ideal when attempting to gain an attractive sun tan but will shrivel plants which are not regularly watered. Nevertheless, the ability to garden "on top of the world" has unmatched eye appeal.

Balcony and Roof Gardening

It is surprising how much color can be created on a balcony or roof, whatever its aspect. Pots, troughs and hanging-baskets packed with summer-flowering bedding plants are ideal during summer, while from autumn to spring reliance is mainly on small, evergreen shrubs and dwarf conifers. When tender plants are grown, these may have to be taken indoors during winter. Alternatively, a friend with a frost-proof greenhouse might be able to offer them sanctuary.

Roof-Garden Ideas

Construct screens to create privacy as well as giving you protection from strong wind. In summer, temporary privacy screens may be all that is needed. Privacy screens are also essential to reassure neighbors they are not being spied upon; before problems arise, tell them about your plans.

In windy positions, it is best to rely on summer-flowering plants in troughs and tubs to create color.

Construct a series of strong railings along the outer edges of the roof garden and then train small-leaved, variegated Ivies to grow over them.

Roof-Garden Caution

Check that the infrastructure is suitable and there is an easily accessible source of water. A combination of strong sunlight and breezes soon causes compost to become dry.

Balcony Key Features

In cold and exposed areas rely mainly on summer displays from summer-flowering bedding plants. Use trailing, small-leaved, variegated Ivies to create more permanent color.

Making the Most of a Balcony

For a color contrast, secure pots of red or scarlet Geraniums (Pelargoniums) to the tops of white railings. At floor level, use a combination of trailing Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ (yellow flowers and leaves) and red Petunias. Let the Lysimachia trail through the railings.

Fragrant displays in spring can be created from troughs or large pots of Hyacinthus orientalis (Hyacinths), in colors including white, rose-pink and soft blue. Plant them in autumn and await a magnificent, superbly fragrant display the following year.

Several Lilies can be grown in pots on warm and wind-sheltered balconies.

Leisure Balconies

Where the view allows and the balcony’s size is suitable, consider having a deck-chair and small table that can both be easily stored indoors when not in use.

Low-intensity and unobtrusive lights can provide another opportunity for making the best of a balcony after the sun has gone down.


Excerpted with permission from Home Gardener's Small Gardens by David Squire and published by Fox Chapel Publishing, 2016.