7 tips for Hongkongers to improve how their balconies look before summer
Whether it’s a balcony, shared roof space or patio, a lucky minority of us have some outdoor space. So what better way to make use of it than to create a pocket garden? Here’s what to do
If you’re lucky enough to have outdoor space in Hong Kong, you’re probably making do with an itsy bitsy balcony, petite patio or shared roof space. Whatever comes with your flat, you can do more to maximise the space. Here’s how to create a stylish pocket garden without breaking your back … or the bank.
1. Grow plants that won’t die
If your outdoor space is sunny for most of the day, get a fiddle-leaf fig and put it in a medium-to-large pot that is turned around regularly so that all sides receive the rays. Other plants that do well in this region include, my favourite, strelitzia reginae (part of the bird of paradise family), which is a lush tropical plant with broad leaves often confused with the banana leaf tree. Then there are fan palms and the Kentia fig (above, right), but if you prefer smaller plants, try herbs such as rosemary and lavender, which are robust and fragrant. The DIY herb garden (above left), made with planks and rope, is simple yet modern.
2. Hang it up
If you have a covered balcony, a simple ceiling hook is all you need to hang lights, lanterns or even a statement chandelier such as this oversized rattan basket (above, left). Hanging plants overhead will shield you from curtain-twitching neighbours on higher levels, but remember to keep your furniture low and small so the pots don’t become head-banging liabilities.
3. It’s all about layering
Use planters, pots and plant stands to create multi-level gardens that can transform any bland urban balcony into a lush oasis. Doing this will add dimension to compact areas. Choose fibreglass and faux-concrete planters that are lightweight so you can also take them with you when you move. Use plants with lots of foliage behind a seating area or in a corner, then cascade the plants at different heights all the way down to the floor.
4. Smart furniture solutions
Choose furniture appropriate to how you wish to use the space. If you’re too busy to lounge around, opt for a hanging chair combined with a single tall statement plant (above, left). If you’re a book lover, choose a daybed, comfy sofa or armchair (above, right). If you want to entertain friends, go for ceramic or timber stools that can double as side tables or as plant pedestals that enhance that layering effect. Benches, with or without storage, are space savers because you can put things inside or underneath them.
5. Hide awkward nooks and unsightly objects
If your would-be oasis is blighted by an ugly air-conditioning unit, hide it or shift the focus. Hang a hammock (above, left) or place a chair and fill it with cushions and throws (above, right) for an easy way to hide what’s behind or below – or make yourself a slatted timber seat or table that will go over the unit to conceal it. Just make sure the slats are wide enough to allow proper ventilation.
6. Lay it down
The easiest way to make an instant impact is to add an outdoor mat. These can hide ugly tiles and be more appealing to bare feet too. Mats made from recycled plastic make sense ecologically; they are also hard wearing and easy to clean. You can also lay soft artificial grass, which these days looks remarkably real.
7. Add a feature wall
“Living walls” are the hottest craze in outdoor feature walls. You can call in the professionals to install a floor-to-ceiling vertical garden or build one yourself. A wall of small hanging potted plants is simple and easy to create using stick-on wall hooks (no screws needed) that hold up to 3kg each. If that’s too high-maintenance, create a faux living wall with high-quality artificial plants. For a simple fix, hang mirrors that help to redirect light into your space. They also trick the eye into seeing a window. Alternatively, install floor-to-ceiling shelving to give your wall an instant modern facelift.