Downsizing to a condo or apartment is not easy. Along with all the physical work and emotional stress that comes with moving into smaller living quarters, trading in a backyard of greenery for a concrete slab may leave lifelong gardeners feeling apprehensive. The good news is that you don’t have to give up gardening when transitioning to a condo because this popular hobby can be practiced almost anywhere with a little planning, the proper plants, and a few creative containers. Following are three container gardening ideas suitable for growing on balconies and terraces:

Fragrant container gardens

Flowers may look pretty, but they also smell good, and there is no better way to appreciate their delicious fragrance than up close. Plant scents go unnoticed in large landscapes with open spaces where wind gusts blow them away. Not so in the smaller confines of a balcony where even subtle floral aromas are captured and concentrated.

On a sunny balcony, herbs like lavender, rosemary, oregano, thyme, and basils grow effortlessly and will release aromatic oils when a hand brushes across their foliage, which adds to the overall sensory experience. Planted individually in simple pots or together in large, stylish containers, herbs’ neutral palette pairs well with more vibrantly-coloured, fragrant annuals such as petunias, dianthus, or dark purple heliotrope.

Blooms of fragrant tropical favourites jasmine and citrus thrive in sheltered sites, while potted bulbs of muscari and hyacinths offer colour and scent in spring and, when grown up high, are safe from squirrels.

For spaces with less sun, pot up mints, annual nicotiana and perennials like hosta plantaginea, whose white, trumpet-shaped flowers will perfume the air once they emerge in late summer, even attracting hummingbirds to quiet balconies on lower levels. Use the ‘less is more’ rule when choosing fragrant plants: too many scents in a small space can be overwhelming, but just the right amount can transform your balcony garden from ordinary to sublime.

Succulent success

Sunshiny terraces are nice, but what to plant when there’s too much of a good thing? Extreme temperatures up high wreck havoc with plants: excessive wind and sun dry plants and burn or tatter foliage making traditional flowers challenging to grow.

Tough, low-maintenance succulents are just the ticket. Because they hold water in their leaves, succulents such as sedums, echeverias, and aloe for instance, can go without watering for long periods, often weeks, so you are not a slave to the watering can. Also, succulents have lovely sculptural and textural forms that look attractive as centrepieces in wide earthenware pots, mulched with pea gravel.

Water gardens

A water garden on a balcony? Why not? It doesn’t require much space and is not as complicated as it seems. Select a container that holds water, deep enough for the marginal plants you want to grow, dwarf papyrus and water lilies, for example. To this add floating plants like water hyacinth, an oxygenating plant (which remains underwater) and even small fish to create an ecosystem that practically takes care of itself and a unique, cool balcony retreat.

These are just a sampling of the container style possibilities; you need not limit yourself to just one. But before plant shopping, carefully assess your new outdoor space for sunlight patterns and shade cast by nearby buildings and trees, wind levels, views and if necessary, call in a professional for guidance. Don’t deprive yourself of a garden just because you no longer have a yard. The advantage of downsizing is the extra time you will have to enjoy relaxing in your garden rather than working in it.

Elaine Sanders can be reached at

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