More and more persons are purchasing apartments in Spain for holidays or retirement. One of the features looked for is often a large terrace so as not to be too restricted having been used to a garden in the UK. However we notice that once the apartment is purchased the terrace is rarely fully used or developed as a colourful productive garden.
What a lost opportunity as a terrace can be developed as an extra room in which to enjoy fresh air, views and a small garden growing flowering plants, fruit and vegetables; and together with neighbours make a well gardened block of apartments can look like the Hanging gardens of Babylon to passers by and persons enjoying the pool and communal gardens.
The following guidelines will help you make a start with an apartment garden:
Consider the terrace as a patio
Consider the terrace as a patio with three walls and a balcony wall or railings. An extension of the apartment designed for living.
Shading the terrace
If the terrace faces south, east or west install one or more blinds that can be pulled down to shade plants during the hottest part of the day -both in the winter and summer- and to make it possible for you to enjoy the colourful perfumed shade for eating out or taking a siesta.
Make the most of the space
Don’t waste valuable floor space on more than a few pots. Recognise that a twenty square metre terrace often has some twenty square metres of wall, excluding the sliding doors, and a ten metre balustrade that can be ‘planted’. Climbing plants can be planted in large pots in each corner, and even trained across the ceiling. If you are overlooked trellis on the inside of the balustrade can provide even more space for climbers such as a bougainvillea, jasmine, plumbago or grape vine. Other plants can be planted in troughs hung on the balustrade and in hanging pots on the walls. Metre high cupboards at either end of the terrace can not only provide valuable storage space, but also space on top for a few plant pots.
But be sure that you use plants that are compatible with your microclimate. A north facing terrace can be cool in the summer but rather chilly in the winter.
The best plants include the following depending on the direction your terrace faces.
South facing: Geraniums, petunias, pansies, herbs, fuchsias, and carnations.
East facing: Busy lizzies, begonias, orchids, potos and aloes.
West facing: Petunias, spider plants, tronco de brazil, agapanthus, and miniature confers.
North facing: Cyclamen, aspidistras, hostas, kalanchoes, and many ‘house’ plants.
Other possibilities are given in our book Your Garden in Spain.
Naturally the more plants you have the more watering and feeding required. If not fully resident use some of the very realistic silk or fabric plants that are now available. If you are on the front line along the beach and regularly exposed to salt spray this may be particularly useful. But don’t give up on real plants. Cover them with plastic before an expected storm and wash well with a spray after the storm. Small collections of plants can be built up on the end walls . Either on shelves or in hanging pots. If north facing a collection of bonsais would make a fascinating hobby .Especially if self grown. On a facing terrace why not collections of succulents or cacti.
Grow vegetables in your apartment garden
Up to twenty vegetables can be grown in various sized containers in an area as small as one square metre as illustrated in part two of our book Growing healthy vegetables in Spain.
Grow fruit trees in your apartment garden
Likewise if your terrace is not entirely roofed over you can grow many fruit trees in containers. How to do so is fully explained in our book Growing healthy fruit in Spain.
Use self watering pots and water retaining gel in the compost of plant pots, to minimise the risk of pots drying out. Especially on south facing terraces during both the summer and winter months. In the winter the low sun will come right into the terrace
Narrow gauge watering system
Although the terrace is small you might build up a considerable number of plants and would still like to get away for a few days so install a narrow gauge watering system.
Add inexpensive plants to brighten up your terrace
Naturally much of what has been said so far is focussed on the resident apartment owner, many of whom were ardent gardeners before downsizing to an apartment. However petunias, geraniums, and busy lizzies for instance are not expensive. They could be purchased on day one of a months stay and put in the bin on the last evening. Treating the cost of the plants as if a weekly purchase of cut flowers.
Minature water features
As in a full sized garden plants are only part of what gives pleasure and beauty. Consider one of the many miniature self contained water features now available in garden centres and even plumbers shops. The background sound of music adding to the magical perfume of the climbing jasmine or galan de noche ( lady of the night) that can be kept small in a pot. On the walls interesting artefacts, ceramic plates and murals and mirrors can all add to the overall homeliness, completeness and feeling of comfort.
And of cause one needs comfortable furniture. Luckily compact furniture in compatible colours and textures are now widely available. Rocking chairs being the answer for relaxed siestas.
We hope that these ideas stimulate a few more cosy colourful terraces, and some more memorable blocks of apartments where every occupant takes pride in the community.
A collection of plants on a patio style terrace does seem to be a more enviable living space than a collection of television aerials, clothes rying frames and empty pots!