Jun 172015
 
Red geraniums and rosemary on a balcony in Spitalfields

Spitalfields, London

I’ve always found it amazing how, in London, you can find yourself in a sea of people on a busy thoroughfare like Oxford Street, then turn down a side street and find yourself alone, in almost spooky silence.

That’s what happened last week, when we went to a birthday party in Spitalfields on a Sunday afternoon. The house was just off Brick Lane, which was heaving with tourists. It reminded me that milling with crowds of people at markets was was never my idea of a good Sunday when I lived in London (my idea of a good Sunday back then was getting out of London altogether) and it looked even less appealing to my out-of-towner’s eyes.

Once we turned the corner, though, it was a completely different story. It was deathly quiet. And so it was, too, from the terrace and balcony at the top of the house, even though we could almost reach out and touch the nearby City skyline. I didn’t manage to get any good pictures because of the number of people, but both spaces were cleverly planted, with lots of herbs, tender plants that you can only get away with in London’s microclimate, and red geraniums mixed with rosemary in apple boxes. The balcony and terrace were also rigged up with thin copper pipes, which gave a pergola effect (see my previous post), something for climbers to trail along, and an added sense of safety (the balconies were only waist height, and a tad disconcerting for anyone who, like me, suffers from vertigo).

You can’t go wrong with red geraniums, can you? Especially on a balcony where they give impact from afar. It made me feel a little nostalgic for my old balcony, but not for the continuous feeling I had when I was living there that I’d rather be living somewhere else.

 

Aug 212013
 
St Johns Wood

St Johns Wood

If you’re planting on a balcony, you’ve got to be bold. A balcony is no place for subtlety. You only have a few plants at your disposal, so you need to create maximum impact with them. That way, you can enjoy them from the inside and passersby can enjoy them from the outside.

On my old balcony I experimented with all kinds of subtle combinations. They looked pretty when I was sitting right next to them, but didn’t look too special from the other end of my living room. From a few floors down, they looked a bit of a mess. But when I planted red geraniums, they were visible from the other end of the Willesden High Road – and if you’ve been to the Willesden High Road, you’ll know that that can only be a good thing.

Red really draws the eye – not always what you want in a border, but perfect on a balcony. I like red mixed with pink. I also like red mixed with orange. I also like pink and orange. I love red, orange and pink against black. But I do not like pink on its own. I do hope you’ve got all that.

Sep 062011
 

South Bank

When I stepped into Judith’s living room, I had the weirdest feeling: it was exactly as I’d imagined it moments before. It reminded me of my old flat, especially as it has patio doors that look onto a balcony.

My flat was on the Willesden High Road, possibly the only road in London that has got more grotty and not the least bit gentrified in the last ten years. Meanwhile Judith lives in the lovely Oxo Tower on the South Bank. But her balcony and my old one are pretty similar – south facing, rather windswept, in a very urban setting and packed to the gunnells with plants. Judith has done what I never quite managed with mine – she’s added height using steps and little tables. She’s also got some jaunty bunting.

My balcony got me interested in gardening and it also kept me sane. Spending time on it was noisy but therapeutic and I loved gazing at a sea of green from my sofa. It sure beat the view directly below, although my young nephew loved it – he once asked to come and visit me so that he could ‘watch the police cars’.

Jul 212011
 

Abbey Road

I used to live in a building called Utopia House. Never was a block of flats more inaccurately named, but that’s another story. One thing that used to fascinate me was that out of 18 flats, only two had plants on the balconies. The rest were home to junk that people didn’t have room for indoors. Space was at a premium, of course (why can’t designers create flats with enough storage – basements, bike stores etc?), but I got a lot of pleasure from gazing out at my green jungle. I couldn’t understand why 16 households in a fairly grim part of town were looking out on such a depressing view.

At the weekend I walked past the Alexandra & Ainsworth Estate and decided to have a look around. Whenever I’ve gone past it on the bus I’ve thought it looked like it must be home to some greenfingered residents, and so it is.

This was the best bit of planting I saw (I especially like the celebratory flags) but I also spotted lots of red geraniums (the perfect balcony plant as they’re so visible), lavender, courgettes, salads, garden gnomes and even trees in pots. Apparently the architect, Neave Brown, designed the site so that everyone had access to a private outdoor space of some kind. And 30-odd years later it’s obviously still appreciated, as most people seemed to be growing something.

I also spotted a community veg garden (growing in bags). And apparently the site will soon be getting some beehives, too.

Mar 052011
 

Marylebone

Spring really seems to be on its way in London – camellias and rhododendrons are out, a haze of green shoots is covering trees and magnolias have big fat buds on them. These are the first wallflowers I’ve seen though – coupled with white narcissi. They run the length of a balcony. Whoever lives here has similar taste to me when it comes to daffs

Feb 152011
 
Lemons growing on Wigmore St, 15 February

Wigmore Street, W1

… take a picture of them. This balcony is on Wimpole St, above a steak restaurant. Before Christmas, white roses were in bloom, and now its lemon tree is fruiting. One white rose remains. I nearly got run over taking this picture – in the end a friendly cab driver stopped for me.