Article by Pattie Barron
You don’t need to transform your balcony into Santa’s grotto to make it look fabulously festive – it’s the little touches that bring the cheer. Like outsize hurricane lanterns holding flickering pillar candles (set of three, battery operated, £29.95, sarahraven.com). And ensure you have ideas, too, that can be seen and enjoyed from both sides of the balcony.
THE FOREVER FIR
Nothing says Christmas quite like a fir tree, but it makes sense to buy one that will be a permanent addition to your outside space. Blue spruce, looking good at many garden centres right now, makes a great contrast with other evergreens, and looks especially good with light-catching white and silver baubles and flashes of scarlet grosgrain ribbon. A pair of standard size holly trees will set the scene and prove a year-round asset taking up little space – you can even add faux berry sprays. Several fiery red dogwood stems, pushed around the base of the trees, add a touch of drama.
TRAILS, TWIRLS AND GARLANDS
Don’t underestimate ivy: it can be a key player. Choose variegated bird’s foot ivy. The best place to bag plants with the longest trails is in the houseplant section of the garden centre: all ivy is reliably hardy outdoors. Place a pot where the pliable stems can trail along the balcony edge and weave a string or two of twinkling fairy lights (battery-operated LED lights, £9.50, marksandspencer.com) around the ivy stems and turn on at dusk.
THE LATE LATE LIGHT SHOW
Use lighting to showcase shrubs, by covering them with invisible nets studded with a myriad starry white lights (battery LED net light, £12.99, lights4fun.co.uk); strings of starburst or snowflake lights can be garlanded around stems and branches (triple starburst string light above, £19.99, hillier.co.uk); trails of micro lights threaded over and around box, bay and euonymus will transform troughs and window boxes (battery fairy lights on green cable, £14.99, lights4fun.co.uk).
In back gardens, plant a striking combo of ruby red and white cyclamen – the large-flowered variety will pack more punch. Bright orange Padparadja pansies add a festive glow, as do the orange berries of solanum, the Christmas cherry. Small, silvered shrubs such as wire-netting bush Corokia, silverbush Convolvulus cneorum and lacey silverdust Senecio will come into their own on a grey day as well as at dusk. Pop the plants individually into terracotta pots on patios or balconies.
A wreath adds a traditional touch, and doesn’t have to be hung on a wall or door. In Germany, the Tannenkranz – pine wreath – is used as a table centrepiece, and would equally suit the bistro table on your balcony. First buy your base, unadorned, then get creative. Kumquats, chillies and their like won’t stay the distance outdoors so instead, firmly nestle shiny, metallic tree baubles in and among the foliage to shimmer and catch the light. To make more of a statement, use the wreath to frame a central terracotta pot planted with an eye-catcher such as the glamorous, white Christmas rose Helleborus niger.
THE MAGIC OF NARNIA
One small trick that can transform your balcony or courtyard. Bulk-buy bunches of tall, twiggy stems painted bright white, some with added silvery sparkle. Separate them out, and prod the stems vertically into the compost of all your balcony pots, so they appear to be growing from the pots. So simple, so effective.
Credit Marianne Majerus Garden Images