By Jaz Allen
One of the first things many people put on their apartment wish-lists is a balcony, but it’s then often the last area to receive any attention after they move in. And that’s purely because most don’t realise what an incredible asset they can turn it into – with or without a great view.
“Balconies are usually the most forgotten part of a unit,” says Mark Curtis, design manager of landscape company Secret Gardens. “But as more and more people move into apartments, and apartment-living becomes part of the culture, the trend is now becoming seeing the outdoor space as their garden, and wanting to find out what they can do with it.”
The options are these days huge, including being landscaped with elevated decking or new tiles, large planter boxes or pots, edible vegetables or herbs, succulents, flowers, wall-climbing vines, fishponds, ornaments … The only limitations really are imagination, budget, aspect, the rules of the individual building and the size and engineering integrity of the balcony, veranda or courtyard.
“For example, we wouldn’t recommend putting a ten-tonne Buddha on many older art deco apartment balconies,” says Curtis. “That’s unless you want everyone on every floor below you to enjoy it too as it falls through!”
Key factors to bear in mind are aspect, which will ultimately dictate what you’ll be able to successfully grow (see Box), and whether there’s a water supply to the balcony. If there is water, then that makes everything easier, with the possibility of installing an automatic irrigation system for plants or a water feature that’ll have to be topped up regularly because of water loss through evaporation or wind.
“A power point outside is also an asset for lights or a gas supply for a BBQ or heater to make the space useable all-year-round,” says Curtis. “These really shouldn’t be neglected spaces. With a little help, these can become a stunning feature that can add so much to the home.”
Even small balconies can be transformed into beautiful little oases in the city, says Brent Reid, the owner of Candeo Landscape Design. It doesn’t have to be a costly, elaborate exercise either.
“The simple act of installing a light can change the way you use a balcony,” he says. “Then there’s the third dimension: height. Getting that right will add the proper scale to the design and from there you can add colour or screening if you need privacy.
“But as well as aspect, there’s also the wind to factor into a design. Every time you do something up off the ground, the elements are multiplied – the sun seems stronger, the wind windier, the cold colder. So you have to be careful then with what you plant. You might have 1,000 options of species on the ground, but higher you might have only 100.”
Designing a garden for a small balcony can start at around $1,200 while a larger one might cost up to $7,500, although on top might be extra construction costs for a much more major job.
Reid says the investment is always worthwhile, however, not only in the extra enjoyment it gives the resident, but also in the increase in value of the apartment.
One of his clients had his apartment revalued after having a garden put in on the balcony, to find it was now worth up to $10,000 more.
Curtis agrees the results can be a triumph on all fronts. “There are so many options and ideas for balcony spaces now,” he says. “It’s important to make the most of them.”