Mid-March is usually the time of year when people start taking a good hard look at their patios and balconies and dreaming up the possibilities for the months ahead. Being honest about what worked last spring, summer and fall, in terms of potted plants, furnishings and decor is usually a good place to start, says landscape designer Janis Matson, of Shoreline Landscape Design .
“I always start with a clean up and reorganization. Decide what looks good. Are there any stains or cracks to repair? Think about the design, do I want a little more privacy? Do I keep this umbrella? Do I even need this umbrella?” says Matson.
Often at this time of the year Matson says she finds herself drifting into HomeSense and Winners to see if they have any “fun gardening stuff” like table centrepieces, beautiful bowls or character pieces like obelisks .
A common mistake people often make with their patios and balconies, says Matson, is lining up all their potted plants around the edge, like a border.
“It makes spaces feel smaller,” she says.
From a planting perspective, you want some movement and air circulation around your pots, she says, so shoving them up against glass railings, fence lines or partitions is the worst thing you can do for them.
From a visual perspective, she says, it makes the area feel boxed in, so you’re far better off creating some dimension and scale in this space by placing pots at different heights, and this clustered effect more closely resembles nature.
“Pick up a cheap little table that you like and put one of the containers on it, so it’s maybe two feet off the ground, and then you can put another bigger one on the ground beside it and a little one on the right hand side,” she says.
A lot of people try and screen off their patios, says Matson, to avoid looking at construction or busy streets, but there is a better way to do this that doesn’t involve a physical block, says Matson, and that’s by creating something visually appealing on your patio, which draws the eye to it and away from whatever you’re not wanting to look at.
“When I walk out onto a patio I consider: What’s my first view? Where’s my light coming from? Where am I naturally looking? Where would I rather look?” she says.
A beautiful hanging trellis, or an architectural piece can work wonders, she says.
One tip Matson always shares with her clients, she says, is make sure you choose a wide enough pot for permanent planting (for seasonal plants it doesn’t matter so much).
“A permanent container needs to be a minimum of 18 inches wide, because in containers — when we have these wicked winters that freeze the daylights out of us — soil is the key to root establishment, so the more volume we can have the more root establishment,” she says.
Typically plants only want about eight inches of depth, she says, so the “massive rectangular or square containers” (think tall and lean) that look great and are currently very popular are not the best for permanent planting, she says.
“Plants will never use the bottom two feet so go for shallow and wider,” says Matson.
Something people should also consider, she says, if using heavy pots on their patios, is the weight restrictions of their patios or balconies.
“Patios are engineered for a certain amount of weight, and if you put a very large ceramic container full of soil and plant you’re probably looking at 300 pounds for that one plant,” she says.
If your patio or balcony has part shade, some great options for plants in pots are: Hostas, Hakonechloa grass, Geranium macrorrhizum, Helleborus orientalis, Japanese maples – acer palmatum and Full moon maples, says Matson. And if you have a sunny patio or balcony, she recommends: Dwarf hinoki cypress, Blue star juniper, Munstead lavender, Oregano, Moonbeam coreopsis, May night salvia, Autumn joy sedum, Blueberries, Alpine strawberries and veggies.
“Blueberries do quite well in containers and there’s some really nice alpine strawberries,” she says.