Big ideas for small gardens

The benefits of transforming your balcony into an urban oasis.

For many Queenslanders living in apartments, the dream of a luscious garden may seem out of reach.

However, gardening in a small space, such as a balcony or courtyard, can be more achievable than landscaping a sprawling backyard.

University of NSW Built Environment Associate Professor Paul Osmond said a garden could be created on any size balcony.

“Not everybody lives in a house with a backyard, nevertheless those who live in flats with balconies can still grow a lot,” Prof. Osmond said.

“The avenues for species selection are pretty broad. You really can choose anything you like. 

“I would recommend lower maintenance plants just on the grounds of saving water and avoiding the use of chemical fertilisers.”

Horticulturalist Angie Thomas said native plants were a great option for balcony gardens.

“Even in a sunny courtyard or balcony, you can still grow many Australian native plants in pots, including paper daisies, dwarf varieties of kangaroo paws, banksias, lilly pilly, Geraldton wax, and beautifully scented boronia,” Ms Thomas said.

“Regular light pruning is the key to keeping most native plants looking fresh and healthy, as it promotes new growth and flowers each season.”

Brisbane residents can claim two free native plants per year through the Brisbane City Council’s Free Native Plants Program.

Prof. Osmond said balcony gardening provided mental health benefits as well as being an enjoyable hobby.

“Part of the joy of interacting with a garden is maintaining it – watering it, composting it, harvesting it – through the entire cycle,” he said.

“There are the basic health benefits of getting fresh air, getting your hands dirty, interacting with plants and nature, which is a known way of relieving stress. 

“It also improves physical health if you're outside, and you're able to be active.”

Begin your balcony garden

  • Check the rules of your strata or body corporate agreement.
  • If space is limited, consider a vertical garden or using an old bookshelf to hold potted plants.
  • Consider the amount of sun your balcony gets and choose plants that match the light conditions.
  • Consider the amount of time you have to care for your garden. Potted plants require more frequent watering and attention than those planted in the ground.
  • Large potted plants, such as ficus or palms, can be used as privacy screens.
  • Ensure your balcony has sufficient drainage and consider putting down non-slip mats.
  • If you have pets, ensure your plants aren’t toxic to dogs or cats. 
  • Use plastic or wooden pots to reduce the weight on your balcony. Also consider filling the bottom half of large pots with polystyrene pieces from packaging to reduce the amount of potting mix you use.