Call us now on

0800 201 4811

Small is Beautiful - Balcony Gardening

Cherry Maslen

Cherry Maslen



Balcony gardening can be even more fun than looking after a bigger space. With no weeding or lawn-mowing you have time to be creative! 

Creating a beautiful outdoor space on a balcony can bring a lot of pleasure to you and your visitors for minimum effort. Balcony gardening offers the joy of plants but without the work that usually goes with a garden – you shouldn’t have to do much weeding for a start, you won’t get slugs, and there’s no lawn to worry about!

McCarthy & Stone properties provide a mix of balconies and patios which homeowners can turn into a mini green haven of peace and tranquillity, a place to sit and feel the sun on your face, enjoy tea and cake or a glass of wine, or even dine alfresco if you have enough space.

‘If you want a balcony garden that looks good all year, the key is to choose plants that suit the conditions,’ says Isabelle Palmer, city garden designer and founder of

Isabelle is the proud owner of two plant-filled balconies at her flat in a converted church in north London. The plants that will flourish on your balcony will depend on whether it’s in the sun or shade, but for either you need species with evergreen foliage. ‘Start with evergreens to give you all-year-round colour as a base,’ says Isabelle. ‘Box, fatsia, camellias and star jasmine are some of my favourites. Then add perennials, which have flowers that come back every year, such as hydrangeas, salvias or clematis.’

Like any garden, you can change your planting with the seasons, but much more easily. Once you have established your evergreens and perennials, you can add pots of your favourite spring bulbs or troughs of summer and winter bedding. Herbs are a wonderfully fragrant addition in the summer – rosemary, thyme and mint grow well in pots, as well as lavender. And cyclamen or winter-flowering pansies will brighten your outdoor space in the colder months. As in a border, you can layer your planting in a container so that as one plant is dormant another takes over – and your balcony will always look fresh and interesting throughout the year. 

Colour or greenery?

Do you want a blaze of colour or a peaceful oasis of greenery? In a small space, too many colours may look messy instead of tranquil. ‘A minimal palette will have a more harmonious effect,’ says Guy Barter, Chief Horticulturist at The Royal Horticultural Society. ‘Choose colours as if you were planting up a tub, with the same family of colours or ones that contrast well together.’ 

If you decide on just greenery, you can create a dramatic effect by choosing plants with varying shapes, textures, heights and shades of green. Plants with large, sculptural leaves – like Fatsia japonica, which produces creamy blooms in October – will give your balcony an instant hint of the tropics. Fatsia grows quite large, so will look best in a corner at the back of a group. Arrange pots of plants with varying textures, from feathery ferns to the pointed architectural spears of an Astelia or Cordyline, and mix different shades from silvery green and luminous bright to dark and glossy. A green and white balcony garden also looks refreshing and elegant. There’s a huge variety of white-flowering plants to choose from, many of which are scented, such as viburnums. Or try the beautiful Camellia ‘Cinnamon Cindy’, which flowers from January to April. 

Add some height

As in a garden, plants of varying height create more interest and the feeling of an outdoor ‘room’, so include some tall plants, or place a narrow bench against the railings for a row of pots to stand on. Trailing plants will also look good on a bench or in a trough fixed securely to railings. If you want a climber, evergreen clematis such as cirrhosa var purpurascens ‘Freckles’ or cartmanii Fragrant Oberon would look lovely planted in a trough and climbing up a trellis against the wall. But avoid climbers if you have a covered or shady balcony as they may become straggly. As Guy Barter warns, ‘They will always be stretching towards the light.’

A place in the sun... or shade

Most flowering plants like sun, though exposed sunny balconies with no shelter from above can be windy and dry, in which case Mediterranean plants such as lavender and rosemary will be good choices. Geraniums are perfect for adding a riot of colour on sunny balconies: they need minimum watering and will flower all through summer and autumn.  

There are plants that love a shady balcony. Many gardeners fight a losing battle with hostas because slugs love them, but in pots on a balcony they are safe from slimy predators and you can enjoy their broad, variegated leaves and tall trumpet-shaped pastel flowers. You have to be careful with bamboo in gardens as it can be pretty rampant, but contained in a pot or trough it can be a stylish addition to a balcony, producing an abundance of tall leaf-bearing canes. Bamboo Chimonobambusa will be happy in the shade. 

Plants that will grow in either sun or partial shade recommended by Guy Barter include the oddly named Elaeagnus x ebbingei, which produces small flowers but is mainly valued for its beautiful dual-coloured leaves, beloved of flower arrangers. Barter doesn’t advise putting grasses in pots but recommends grass-like sedges, such as Carex buchananii, which also has spikes of tiny green or brown flowers.

Year-round attraction

With its dense evergreen leaves, the Pieris is a wonderful plant for year-round interest and looks perfect in a large pot. There are several varieties but Pieris ‘Forest Flame’ is one of the best. In the early spring, the new leaves are a glorious bright red, turning pink then green as the year wears on. In April and May, long sprays of white blooms like lily of the valley appear. 

Another wonderful year-round plant is Nandina domestica, a small shrub with attractive leaves that are a purplish colour when young and again in winter. It has spikes of star-shaped white flowers in summer, followed by red berries in autumn. 

And leave room for one thing – a comfortable chair from which to enjoy your miniature paradise! 


  • Placing fragrant plants on a balcony means you will be near enough to enjoy their delicate scent. 
  • Lavenders look great in pots and are ideal for sunny balconies as they can withstand dryness
  • Pots of lilies are perfect for summer colour and fragrance.
  • Rosemary is wonderfully fragrant, produces small purple flowers and you can use it in the kitchen, too. 
  • Dwarf sweet box (Sarcococca hookeriana var humilis) is a small evergreen shrub that produces highly scented white flowers in winter.
  • Mexican orange blossom (Choisya x dewitteana ‘Aztec Pearl’) is a compact 
    evergreen shrub. 

Photo Credit: Alamy, Getty, Istock, Gap Photos.


Like this article? Subscribe to receive updates...
Subscribe to receive notifications when we post new articles to our online magazine.
By subscribing to these updates you’re agreeing to receive email updates when new articles are published to the McCarthy & Stone online magazine.
We’ll never send you spam or sell your details. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Related Articles


How To Manage Your Diet In Retirement

There are many extra demands placed on our bodies as we progress through life and because of this our nutritional needs also change as a result. It is never too late to revamp your nutrition and nurture your body with a healthier diet.   ...Read more


Tackling loneliness among older people with Pen Pals

We understand the problem of loneliness amongst older people and we want to do something to combat it. That’s why we have created our latest Pen Pals programme, an outlet to connect older people with other older people in communities by the writing and exchanging of letters. Click to find out more. ...Read more


How To Make New Friends In Retirement

Friendship is hugely important at every stage in life, and retirement is no exception. What’s more, in retirement you could make the most of the extra free time you have to discover different experiences and meet new people – leading to new friendships and relationships.  ...Read more


Sheffield – The Steel Centre of the World

Famed for its industry and innovation, the green, modern cityscape now replaces the smoking chimneys from the industrial revolution. There’s a friendly, independent and alternative spirit that can be hard to find in other cities alongside a thriving cultural scene. ...Read more


Wally & The Flying Scotsman

Popular North Gate Court customer Wally Blazey moved into their McCarthy & Stone apartment with his wife Gladys seven months ago, and the couple have just celebrated their 72nd anniversary. At 92, Wally is one of the two last surviving drivers of the Flying Scotsman, the most famous steam locomotive in the world. ...Read more


The Top 11 British Hidden Gems

Where are the best locations in the UK to visit... that you've probably not heard of? We've ranked the best hidden gems around Britain, that are easy to access, and offer a great weekend away with the family. ...Read more


Do Pets Make You Happier?

Whether you're a pet owner or have a pet free home, animals of all kinds have been proven to improve the happiness of their human counterparts. To find out more McCarthy & Stone conducted a survey to see how pets enrich their owners lives. Here are the results! ...Read more


Let’s Dance 

It’s sociable and fun, and it’s good for your health and your brain – time to put on your dancing shoes  ...Read more


The Thought Behind Your Home

Prospective homeowners will be delighted to know all aspects of their new living space – including the communal areas – have been considered during the design process, helping to make their lives more comfortable and a little easier  ...Read more


Making your memories last forever

It’s never been easier to keep your most precious memories alive. From personalised photo albums and keepsakes to specially commissioned biographies and films, there are many ways to create a very special legacy – and have a lot of fun while you’re doing it. Here are a few ideas to inspire you  ...Read more


5 Recipes For A Royal Wedding

We look into the perfect recipes to pair with a royal wedding. We've picked out the most delicious, as well as the quintessentially British for the special occasion! ...Read more


The Best Golf Courses in the UK

Now is a great opportunity to get out on the fairway and get practising. We've looked into some of the best golf courses in the UK, including golf courses in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to get you ready and eager to tee off this spring and summer. ...Read more


Advice For Low Maintenance Gardening

Let’s be honest, we’d all love a gorgeous garden that would blossom with just the wave of a weed-wand. But I can’t be the only one who finds that a few minutes pottering turns into hours of pruning, trimming and raking at times.  ...Read more


Great British Outdoor Experiences the Whole Family Can Enjoy

Finding an activity that the whole family can enjoy together can sometimes feel like a tall order, especially amongst the hectic schedules of our day to day lives. However, spending time together in the great outdoors is the perfect way to leave behind those digital distractions and create some precious family memories that will last a lifetime. ...Read more


Inspirational Retirement Stories

You may wonder just how you will spend your retirement or worry that you will not find enough activities to fill your time. This can be far from the truth, these active retirees share their inspirational retirement stories  ...Read more


How Do You Want To Live Your Life?

Enjoying a fulfilling retirement isn’t just about where you live. How you live plays an equally important role when it comes to getting the most out of what ought to be an extremely rewarding time of life.  ...Read more


Dating for over 50s: how to find love in later life

Love in later life can seem daunting. If you’ve been married for some years and are recently divorced or widowed, looking for love is a whole lot different today than it was back when you were young. But that’s no reason to be put off – you’re never too old to fall in love! ...Read more


Behind the Scenes

There’s a vast team working all year round at McCarthy & Stone to make sure that every homeowner in every development receives the best of the best. Here we talk to three of them… ...Read more


How we help every step of the way

McCarthy & Stone knows that communication is key when it comes to making a decision as big as moving into a retirement development, which is why it has staff ready to talk through the process, says Rachel Halliwell ...Read more


Return of the Spider Plant

Remember when trailing greenery hung from macramé pot holders in every bay window in the country? Well, the good news is house plants are back in vogue. Here’s how to make the most of them ...Read more


Inspirational Generation

Are you member of the Inspirational Generation? We want to hear your stories. Enter our competition and tell us why - you could be in with the chance of winning £2,000! ...Read more


Starting a new chapter in your life

Many people feel apprehensive about selling their family home, says Rachel Halliwell. Yet McCarthy & Stone managers see the worry and weight being lifted from the shoulders of homeowners once they move in. It’s like being on a permanent luxury holiday, said one ...Read more


What we don't miss about being younger

The study by leading retirement housebuilder, McCarthy and Stone, reveals sitting exams, enduring the daily commute and the stress of running a family, are among some of the things the older generation DO NOT miss about being younger. ...Read more


The Teams Behind the Scenes

McCarthy & Stone has a vast team working round the clock to make sure that every homeowner in every development receives the best of the best. Here, we talk to three of the key players...

...Read more


Behind the scenes: Interior design

A lot of work and careful planning goes into creating the beautiful interiors of a McCarthy & Stone development. Interior designer Hannah Gernon explains how she arrives at the finished results ...Read more


Childhood memories at Waverley House

Mary Kent lived at the first McCarthy & Stone Development to be built, Waverley House in New Milton. Here, her granddaughter Tania Harland shares wonderful childhood memories of spending time there, which inspired her to work for McCarthy & Stone when a job opportunity came up 10 years ago. ...Read more


5 gardening tools for the elderly

Whether you've been a gardening enthusiast for years or only recently discovered the joys of green fingers, getting your hands dirty in the garden can become more difficult in later life. We look at tools that can make this hobby easier. ...Read more



Come to GrandFest and join us throughout June and July for a celebration of heritage skills in partnership with the Royal Voluntary Service. ...Read more


A Date To Remember: 1977

It was a year of social unrest, high inflation, patriotism and punk rock. It was also the year that John McCarthy and Bill Stone built their first retirement apartments. As McCarthy & Stone celebrates its 40th anniversary, we take a look back at the highs and lows of 1977. ...Read more


40 Years On...

Celebrate 40 years of retirement living solutions with McCarthy & Stone. Discover how we are commemorating this special event here! ...Read more


Finding Love In Later Life

They'd both lost their partners 9 years ago and moved to a McCarthy & Stone development, but little did Ann and Robin know they were about to start something very special...

...Read more


Frontline Extra

We are excited about the next few months! Mother’s Day, the feel good movie of the year could well be perfect for your mom this Mother's Day! ...Read more


Finding love

Meeting someone new in later life, for companionship and love, can seem impossible, but these couples show that it can happen! ...Read more