How to Create a Balcony Garden

How to Create a Balcony Garden

I’ve been so excited to write this post! I started creating my balcony garden (as it is) during the spring of 2010, and finished it up right at the beginning of summer. I had a lot of help–Katharine Tretter helped me with space planning and her husband, Kevin, built my free-standing wall fountain. My awesome boyfriend & Hunky Foreman, Brett, hung planters and lights for me; and my Summer Minion, John McAlpin, did all sorts of oddball jobs for me as well. Then last summer, my landscape designer/writer friends, Susan Morrison and Rebecca Sweet, began writing their book “Garden Up!: Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces”  (Cool Springs Press) and asked me to contribute some photographs for how I planned a small-space garden. Whew! Lots o’ activity within a few months.

I’d like to take a few moments to show you how it all came together, because even though it’s a small space, it had some real challenges. It’s a 3rd floor balcony in an apartment complex–so it’s windy with morning sun only, and I can’t really drill holes in the walls to hang anything. It’s also right by I-35 and next door to my son’s high school, so it’s loud. I had no idea what to do with it. Until I went to the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show in March of 2010, and saw this display garden by designer Dawn Engel:

Dawn called this her “Salvaged Creole Jazz Garden” and it’s so easy to see why. Tumbled old brick pavers, saturated colors, a fountain with alligator heads, swingin’ party lights, planters from old musical instruments, and an overall darkly romantic but somehow playful mood. Isn’t that New Orleans all over? I thought so, too, and wanted to create a similar feel in my own space. But don’t laugh, because this is what I started out with:

A dreary balcony

Pretty gloomy and nasty, huh? How about this lovely view:

An even drearier balcony

Yeah, okay, let’s move on. It’s making me break out into a rash just remembering it. But what I did have to start out with was a red bistro table and two chairs, an old green chaise lounge, and an outdoor rug. I also had a some architectural salvage (an awesome old door) but I had it inside my apartment. I knew I had to have a fountain, but I couldn’t hang a wall fountain on my cement-board walls. So  my friend Katharine came up with an awesome idea–she and her husband built me a free-standing false wall with an attached planter. Katharine gave it an antiqued faux finish and Hunky Foreman Brett hung it for me. Here it is unpainted, but with the fountain:

Now you can see more details coming together, even though this in-progress work is a mess. I realized that it’s important to layer this outdoor room, just as I would my indoor living room. So I bought another outdoor rug, some lights that need hanging, and lots of plants:

Now I’ve started to rearrange furniture, added cushions for the chaise lounge and bistro chairs, and moved the salvaged door to the back wall.

Okay, now I’ve got most of my pieces purchased; I just have to arrange everything, hang the lights up,  and put in the finishing touches with plants and accessories. Ready? Here was one of the first pics I took, probably the day I got everything in place (poor Brett, that was a long day!):

And this view is one of my favorites, too. I added some black trellises and French-quarter inspired topiaries to flank the fountain:

And this view, too, with my Craig’s List $50 bench and red throw that I already had:

Now here’s some close-ups of details:

Want to create your own intimate outdoor space? These tips will help:

  1. Ground your space with an outdoor rug.
  2. Add furnishings: table, chairs, benches, chaise lounge, side tables
  3. Layer with lighting: overhead patio lights, electrical lights if you can, and candles.
  4. Move in your planters and plants; make it lush or keep it simple.
  5. Finish with accessories: cut flowers, statuary, artwork, throws, cushions and pillows

Thank you Dawn, Rebecca, Susan, Brett, Katharine & Kevin, John, Luke and Max–I love my romantic New Orleans jazz balcony, and your inspiration, encouragement and hard work were invaluable to me! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a balcony to lounge on.

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  1. says

    Jenny, your makeover is truly amazing. Thank you again for letting us feature it in the book! I’m most impressed that you figured out a way to include a wall fountain. And my favorite detail? The trumpet filled with string of pearls.
    I hope I get to visit in person one day!

  2. says

    Even though I will most likely miss your SXSW tweet-up / soiree, thanks for sharing your very nice, small space! The old door is my favorite part at first glance.

    Now, you only need to make some beignets and crank up some Louis Armstrong or Billie Holliday…happy Mardi Gras.

  3. says

    Happy Fat Tuesday, Susan and David! Susan, I was so happy to finally find a use for that old trumpet!

    David–would you believe I bartered part of my design work with some builders who had to tear down old houses? I got that door and a stained-glass window in the trade! And the door even has New Orleans fleur de lis on it–serendipity, I tell you! We’ll miss you at the party!

  4. says

    Don’t you find it ironic that today is Fat Tuesday and today is the day when we all get to pimp your AMAZING New Orleans garden? I’m SO excited for you! I think I’ll go outside and throw some beads in your honor…..

  5. says

    I love, love, love it! I’m so glad you were inspired by my little garden–and it was so great to meet you at the show. Your balcony is absolutely adorable. Now, all you need to do is set your Pandora station to “Preservation Hall Jazz Band,” whip up a batch of Hurricanes or Pimm’s Cups, and enjoy! I also want an update on how those ‘gator heads are holding up to the water….:) I have my mosaic fountain in my front yard, but was hesitant to include the heads, for fear of them rotting….!

  6. says

    Thank you, everyone! And Dawn, I am thrilled that you love my space that was inspired by YOUR space! Do you remember when I was going to buy your alligator heads off of you? My alligator heads are faring nicely because there’s a screen underneath them that keeps them out of the water. They do get splashed on a bit, but so far I haven’t noticed any rotting.

    Ew–rotting alligator heads wouldn’t be too romantic, now would it?

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  11. says

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  1. […] Adding a wall-mounted water feature to a balcony was no small feat, but it provides the backdrop for a charming space filled with topiaries, cozy throws and rugs and whimsical touches like a trumpet overflowing with the succulent known as string of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus). Despite contending with both a slim space and a slim budget, Jenny successfully transformed her plain-Jane balcony into a relaxing and artistic New Orleans-style retreat. (Read more about creating a balcony garden on Jenny’s blog.) […]

  2. […] Adding a wall-mounted water feature to a balcony was no small feat, but it provides the backdrop for a charming space filled with topiaries, cozy throws and rugs and whimsical touches like a trumpet overflowing with the succulent known as string of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus). Despite contending with both a slim space and a slim budget, Jenny successfully transformed her plain-Jane balcony into a relaxing and artistic New Orleans-style retreat. (Read more about creating a balcony garden on Jenny’s blog.) […]

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