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By Eliza Nicholas

As someone who spends a lot of time in Central London, I can happily say that you don’t need to have a large outdoor space to enjoy gardening.

A silver lining of lockdown has been many people’s discovery of their green fingers, enabling them to make the most of the space they have. Spending time among nature is known to boost physical and mental wellbeing, so it’s unsurprising that we’re drawn to cultivating greenery at home. In my experience, gardening is peaceful yet productive, helping us relax while a satisfying project evolves.

That being said, for beginner gardeners, it can be totally perplexing to choose which plants might suit a balcony, or work out how to start growing vegetables on a postage-stamp sized patio.

For small gardens, balconies or even windowsills, container gardening is key. A collection of well-chosen pots can offer opportunities for growing, while looking super and being easy to move around.

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If you’re starting from scratch, aim to select plants based on three basic factors –

  • suitability to location
  • maintenance level
  • visual qualities

Put simply, make sure you choose heat-loving plants for a sun-trap (such as Lavenders, Salvia, Sedum and Achillea), and shade-lovers for a sheltered spot (think Hostas, Heucheras and Ferns).

On maintenance, try not to buy plants that will need regular deadheading or bucket-loads of attention if you won’t be around enough to keep them looking tip top (hint: ornamental grasses).

Aesthetics comes down to personal preference, so think about your vibe and colour scheme, as well as what will attract bees and butterflies!


It’s worth making sure that at least half of your plants are evergreen, so your space will look great from the window even when it’s too chilly to be outside (try Fatsia, Daphne or shaped Box).

If you’re interested in growing edibles, go for veggies that grow vertically (beans, peas, tomato plants) to maximise space, or grow dwarf / container varieties that create a more compact plant suited to pots. I grow lots of spinach, herbs and root vegetables, as these are what I eat most of and it’s handy having them just outside the back door.

Once you’ve decided on plants, I recommend investing in several large pots or troughs to create structure and shape the area.

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You can then position smaller containers in front to create a tiered effect and cosy enclosed feel. Whether you go for coloured glazed pots, angular styles or classic terracotta, choose to suit your space and style. Light-weight options are available for those with weight-limits on balconies.

Remember, if you get stuck or feel unsure, you can read up or ask an expert who knows what’s what. In my opinion, the secret to gardening is being fascinated by the process and just enjoying it, rather than worrying about getting everything right first time.

Nurturing growth or harvesting something that you can eat feels magical and can be truly grounding during uncertain times. As we head towards spring 2021, experienced gardeners and first-time growers can all experiment with something new, immersing ourselves in learning opportunities, and hopefully carving out some much-needed moments of calm.

  • Eliza Nicholas is a garden designer based in London, one of Pro-Landscaper's ‘30 under 30’ list of rising stars working in horticulture and garden design. Discover more at Rocket Garden Design

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