Gardens can play many roles in the aesthetics of an apartment’s outdoor areas, softening the mix of metal and concrete, adding privacy and a calming, organic presence to soothe the soul. Even the smallest of spaces can be big on style with these expert tips.
There are many aspects to consider with an apartment garden that might not be of as much concern on a quarter acre block. “To make the most of your small urban outdoor space, every square metre counts,” says specialist urban garden designer Tom Brooks, director of The Small Garden. “When space is tight a garden design needs to be well thought out.” Follow these expert tips to create an apartment garden that looks good and adds value to your lifestyle.
Access to an apartment is usually via lifts or stairs, so when selecting screens, sculptures and large plants, consider the width of these access points. Then when you have finally got them up to your apartment level, access to the outdoor area of the apartment will most likely be through the interior apartment so extra care of indoor flooring and furniture will need to be taken when moving soil, plants and pots from the entrance to the outside.
LIGHT & EASY
Being able to reposition pots and troughs once they are in the apartment is important, so Tom suggests mobilising your plants with the use of low profile trolley wheels on larger pots. “Wheels enable you to easily move large potted plants or troughs out of the shade, sun or wind, and allow you to easily create a different layout.”
Larger pots or troughs with false bottoms give a substantial look without adding too much weight – only having soil in the upper half of the container means you use less soil and have less overall weight while still giving a sense of grandeur and height. Tom recommends light-weight GRC pots made from glass reinforced concrete. “Most garden centres will be able to direct you to this light-weight pot option,” he explains. “They’re the latest thing in pot design, with a finished look of stone and terrazzo.”
Multitasking plants do more than just look good and are perfect for apartment gardens. Paul Van Deurse, from the Cottage Garden Nursery in East Brisbane, recommends citrus trees for an appealing and edible addition – lemons, lime, oranges, mandarins, calamondin and cumquats are just some of the more popular citrus options. Providing lush foliage for greening, height for screening, not to mention plenty of fruit, these citrus trees add a fresh Mediterranean feel, are hardy and really justify their place in a small space. Olive trees also thrive in large pots on sunny verandahs.
Lavender is well known for its soothing fragrance and soft, eponymous hue. Planting troughs of dreamy lavender on the verandah outside of bedrooms provides a calming perfume and softens the view of the neighbouring roofs. Other calming plants include chamomile, thyme and sage.
Many edible plants can be shaped or hedged to provide screening or borders and they work hard in the kitchen too. Rosemary, and basil can be shaped and hedged; tomatoes, nasturtiums and beans can be trained on a trellis to provide screening and by growing vertically, save space. Other edible plantings that look great in the garden are strawberries, baby carrots, chives, thyme, basil and kale. Marigolds are easy growing, multitasking additions to your garden – they naturally deter pests attacking other plants and their petals can be used in salads. Pretty Viola seedlings are edible, making another beautiful addition to salads.
VYING FOR SPACE
Saving space by utilising a wall instead of floor space, lush tropical vertical gardens are great for greening up stark walls, screening from neighbours and creating a focal point in an urban garden. Vertical gardens can also be used for edible plants – strawberries and herbs work well.
Access to garden hoses can be limited in apartments so you will have to take into consideration possibly having to hand watering your plants. Make sure you check any drainage issues to avoid water damage to walls, furniture and floor coverings in your outdoor oasis, use drip trays under planters to prevent water run off and staining to tiles. Also consider your downstairs neighbours with regard to water runoff. Finally, it’s important to feed your plants, not just water them. Regular fertiliser is the key to strong healthy plants. So with expert advice, lots of inspiration, a snazzy new watering can and the occasional prayer to St. Dorothy, patron saint of gardeners, your apartment garden starts to take shape – one that is very pleasing to see, smell and even taste.
Words: Kate Carey