gardens are no longer possible only on solid ground. Balconies and
terraces are being transformed into a new kind of backyard for
millions of apartment, condominium and townhouse dwellers across the
country, and the Milwaukee area is no exception. Some imagination and
creativity are the basic ingredients to creating what can be an
outdoor room filled with flourishing greenery perfect for entertaining
Susan Marrinan is one of those condominium dwellers. She is a busy
attorney for Snap-on Tools and lives in a condominium in the Brewers
Hill area of Milwaukee with little green space around her. It hasnít
stopped her from enjoying an opulent space filled with an abundance of
potted or container plants containing trailing vines and beautiful
Pass by Marrinanís condominium on the corner of Hubbard and Vine,
and you can see why it was the winner of the Mayorís Landscape Award
for Best Balcony Design. Catherine Cowling, owner of Gardengirl.biz
LLC in Milwaukee, is the talent behind Marrinanís gorgeous garden.
Terrace gardens have skyrocketed in popularity as people discover
that you can use many different kinds of plants because they are in
pots or containers. You may even use small shrubs and dwarf trees to
create a mini-suburban landscape above the ground. Balcony gardens
even offer the opportunity for growing flowering fruit trees and
container-grown herbs and vegetables. "Basically, you can use any
plant that will grow in a container in the warmer months and that can
include tropical plants," Cowling explains.
When Marrinan purchased her condominium, she knew she wanted to
dress up the balcony, but was certain that she did not have the time
or the know-how to do it. "I found Catherine through my realtor.
She has done a terrific job and Iím so pleased," she says.
"I knew I wanted a variety of color and some privacy. Beyond
that, I left it up to Catherine."
Cowling had the basic instructions from Marrinan, but she chose the
plants herself. "Susan left me with free rein, which was fun. We
decided on an Italian garden setting, using a lot of plants that you
might find in a garden in Italy," she says.
Some of the plants Cowling used on Marrinanís 15-by-30-foot
balcony space include Lambís ear (a fuzzy-leafed perennial),
Dianthus, morning glories, ground-cover Sedum, vines, topiaries and a
variety of annuals and perennials. "We used some
three-dimensional trellises that can be put into a large pot. It
really creates some privacy, just like an outdoor room," Cowling
says. A spiral staircase joins the two levels and is perfect for
lovely trailing sweet potato vines and morning glories.
Benefits and drawbacks
There are multiple benefits to container gardening, primarily
convenience, which can be a big factor for people with a busy
lifestyle. The drawback is there is a bit of maintenance attached to a
container garden. "Many people donít realize that because the
plants are in containers, they tend to dry out more quickly. You need
to maintain a schedule," Cowling says.
Cowling estimates she spends several hours a week taking care of
Marrinanís balcony garden, watering and pruning. Of course, the
maintenance factor is directly proportionate to the number of
containers you are using.
If you get bored with the arrangement of your balcony garden, you
can feel free to change around the plants any time. The mobility of
container gardening also makes it easy to rearrange and resculpture
your garden and to add new elements of interest and beauty. If a plant
does not work well in your garden, you can always remove and replace
it. And, as the seasons change, you can replace plants and
decorations. Of course, in Wisconsinís climate, you canít grow
plants in December, but you can use some decorative elements.
you select plants for your balcony garden, try to determine what
plants will grow well on your balcony, based on the amount of sunlight
and shade they will receive. Toward which direction does the balcony
face? Is the balcony recessed? If it is open, will there be too much
scorching sunlight? These are all factors that should be considered.
Tricks of the trade
With container gardening, you can use time-release fertilizer and
automatic watering systems that can help you tend your plants while
you are away. "There is such a wide variety of pots available,
you can use almost anything. I donít recommend leaving your plants
in the plastic containers they are in at the nursery, however,"
Cowling says. "These containers dry out quickly."
To keep plants from drying out, Cowling suggests placing a sponge
in the bottom of the container that will retain moisture. "An old
master gardenerís trick is to put a diaper in the bottom of the pot.
You can also use coconut matting, which retains moisture," she
says. As for fertilizer, she fertilizes with liquid fertilizer once a
week and also uses fertilizer stakes periodically.
Container gardens can cost as much or as little as your budget will
allow. They can be more economical than a large in-ground garden or
more opulent. Initial setup costs may be a little more, but once the
appropriate containers and materials are purchased, costs are minimal.
You will be buying fewer plants, less media and less fertilizer than
for traditional gardening, according to Cowling.
Container and balcony gardens can be a great alternative for
seniors who may not be able to maintain a traditional garden anymore.
Flowers as well as herbs and vegetables can be grown in containers.
Sometimes a single tomato plant may be enough to satisfy the craving
for fresh vegetables.
Overall, Marrinan is quite happy with her garden. "I have had
very little input into the design and upkeep of the plants. Catherine
deserves all the credit," Marrinan says. "Itís a really
wonderful thing to enjoy when I come home after a long day."