Leaside balconies – what’s on yours?

Like a backyard in the sky, a balcony can offer apartment and condo residents the opportunity to create a personal patch of paradise. A place to escape the confinements of indoor living, sip a morning coffee, dine al fresco and even grow some food.

I can only imagine how important balconies must be to apartment and condo dwellers during COVID-19. Yet with all that we know now about how important vertical greening is to help our environment, I still see so many empty balconies in our “Garden City” of Leaside.

So, what’s on your balcony?

That’s the very question I asked my condo-living friends in preparation for this article, but I wasn’t expecting much.

The pandemic has certainly made it more difficult to source seeds, plants and planting materials and yet the biggest complaints I heard were about the wind, the dirty city air (because of construction) and the heat. That is, until I ran into Pat Morin.

“I love my terrace!” she said and quickly sent me photos.

Together with her husband John, they specifically chose their southeast facing condo at the Kilgour Estates because of the all-day sun. “We’re morning people,” says Pat, and they wanted to embrace the full potential of their balcony from the very beginning. That was back in 2007 when they moved from their Leaside home into their brand-new condo.

Pat’s granddaughter Vienna age 6.
Pat’s granddaughter Vienna age 6.

But gardening on a balcony is different from gardening on the ground and they went through some trial and error with plant choices.

One trendy garden store convinced them to use very expensive artificial yews as a way to avoid plant wind damage (they’re on the fifth floor), but it only took a few years for those yews to become discoloured, brittle and ultimately landfill fodder.

Beautiful flowers on the balcony.
A  series of live evergreen boxwoods (suggested by Sheridan Nurseries) helps both to filter and cool down the air around them.

Now a series of live evergreen boxwoods (suggested by Sheridan Nurseries) helps both to filter and cool down the air around them. John followed Sheridan’s instructions on how to plant, maintain and winterize them with burlap protection and he hasn’t lost a boxwood yet.

“It comes down to teamwork,” says Pat. “I love visual design, so I choose the flowers and herbs and John likes to do the gardening and maintenance.” This involves all of the watering, fertilizing, pruning and cleanup. Personally, I know just how much work that really is, but it shows that all of their efforts have paid off. 

This balcony is where Pat and John enjoy a glass of wine on a summer evening or a BBQ with their family and three grandchildren surrounded by the fresh scent of lavender and herbs. Yes, they put their balcony to good use and have created a beautiful backyard right in the sky.

What’s on yours?

If you want to green up and make better use of your balcony, here’s my advice:

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start small with a table and a few chairs. Bring some of your houseplants (available at any grocery store) outside to a shady spot to learn how much sun, shade and wind your balcony gets. You will soon find out if it’s easy or difficult to keep your plants watered.

Seek professional advice on what to plant from someone who specializes in balcony gardening once you understand your balcony’s micro climate better. You may not be able to grow what you want to grow, but know that there is a plant for almost every situation.

•  Always check with your condo or apartment management company to learn about any restrictions.

But most important of all, use your balcony well. If not, this only gives developers a reason to treat these outdoor oases as design accessories rather than functional and essential spaces

Scarlett, age 10, and Vienna on Pat’s balcony.
Scarlett, age 10, and Vienna on Pat’s balcony.
About Debora Kuchme 65 Articles
After a 30-year career as a fashion designer, Debora worked at Horticultural Design for over a decade. Now with her concerns about climate change, she hopes to help local gardeners find positive solutions for a greener and healthier neighbourhood. As a board member of the Bayview Leaside BIA, she created the Bayview Pixies, a volunteer group introducing sustainable gardening practice to Bayview.