Making Your Balcony Awesome

A while back, I shared my super-helpful tips on how to create a totally realistic and productive budget. And no, there is not a hint of sarcasm in that sentence there. 

In that tradition, today I offer you some more super-helpful tips on the subject of making your balcony sehr bitchin’. Enjoy.

Germans have got some seriously impressive gardening skills. In fact, that’s something my parents took particular notice of when they visited me last summer. But you might be saying, “Heather, you’re from Wisconsin… aren’t you surrounded by farms and cows and crap*?” Well… yeah. There are a lot of farms near us. And every year we (and by we, I mean my parents) planted flowers and veggies, but they did not always have success. The soil at our place is pretty dry and sandy, which doesn’t help your garden much. In addition to that we have a fairly severe ‘critter’ issue with moles, ground squirrels, and other things that particularly enjoy nomming anything green within days of it sprouting.

Additionally, my parents had this preconceived notion that no one in Europe had such a thing as a yard. After all, isn’t that why all those immigrants packed their trunks and boarded boats for the American dream? So imagine their surprise here when we drove through villages where every house had a yard – maybe not as big as ours but definitely present – and those yards were overflowing with trees, flowers, and vegetables. One of the things I love here is how green everything is all the time. At home we go from white (winter), grey (end of winter), green (spring), brown (summer), and repeat. But here it’s nothing but green. It’s great. 

One of the things I was not really willing to compromise on when searching for a flat here was a balcony. If I can’t have a yard, I want some kind of outdoor space. In Prague we could climb up on the roof…

Can’t beat that view.

… but given my levels of coordination, that was not the safest choice in the world. Plus the acrobatics involved did not make grilling or anything else remotely feasible. So in my flat search in Germany, my main requirement was my desire to read a book outside without having to leave the house or do potentially dangerous gymnastics. 

Happily, I was able to find a place with a balcony with no problem. My landlord even sprang for a table to go with the two chairs before I moved in. Score! So last summer I spent a fair amount of time on the balcony, soaking in books and the afternoon sun. I even got a couple of plants, which I managed to not kill for the entire summer. 

Last summer.

As I said, Germans have mad gardening skills. But even those without a proper yard can exercise their abilities if they have a balcony. All over Germany (and especially here in Bavaria) you can see balconies and window boxes positively overflowing with greenery. The Geranium seems to be the window box flower of choice, and you can see mine above. But this year I decided I needed to step up my balcony game. This was especially true after my trip to Berlin, as G’s flatmate has the most adorable Provence-y balcony ever. I was jealous…

How cute, right? I spent an excessive amount of time on Pinterest trying to find things that I could actually make workable for my balcony before saying “screw this” and deciding to just see what I could come up with. This is pretty much how it went.


Step 1: Resolve that you want to do something about the balcony. Think about the merits of hiring a donkey, or hope that a strapping young German gentlemen will knock on the door and offer up his ability to carry things and/or car. Curse living alone. Idly Google for what plants can handle a lot of sun, but do not commit this information to memory (will be important later).
Timeframe: 1 day to 1 month.  

Step 2: Learn time-management skills. This is important because stores are not open on Sundays, and there are three holidays in May, all falling during the week, which means they aren’t open on those days either. Additionally the farmers markets will be closed. So if you want to go to the store, you must plan the time and also factor in your normal errands, i.e. grocery shopping so you don’t starve to death while everything is closed. 
Timeframe: 1 year to 28 years. 

Step 3: Go to OBI (or other home-and-garden-type store) to buy window boxes, hangers, and dirt. 
Timeframe: 30 minutes to 90 minutes, depending on decisiveness and ability to figure out the how the hangers work. 

This was an issue. For some strange and unknown reason, I thought the boxes would come with hangers already attached. Not the case. OBI had a ton of choices for hangers, but were all basically the same. You had 8 metal pieces screwed together for convenience, with a completely nonsensical diagram that supposedly showed you how to install it. Now, I am good with instructions. I once got a toolkit for Christmas. During college, I could break down and put my futon back together in 10 minutes. But this diagram was beyond me. I spent about 15 minutes wandering around the planters trying to see if all the diagrams were written in hieroglyphics, or if there was one that looked like it made sense. The only way I could figure it out would result in a metal bar hanging out over the top of the planter which I thought looked super ghetto. Exhibit A: the boxes in the empty flat blow me.

See? Doesn’t that look ghetto?

So I wasn’t having that. This resulted in my buying basket-type hangers instead. Pro: easier. Con: 2+ times the price. 

Step 4: Return home to drop off the loot. Take a recovery break after the exertion of carrying all this crap up four flights of stairs. Also take time for a costume change, as it went from warm to hotter than Hades while you were gone. 
Timeframe: 10 – infinity minutes 

Step 5: Go to the farmers market to buy plants. Remember before when you Googled what plants would be good? No? Good. Instead wander around the stands aimlessly, and get really excited when you find out that most of the plants have tags/growing information printed on their containers. Bonus! Pick out plants that can handle sun. And don’t forget to go to your favorite Old Farmer Man because you’re out of tomatoes. I also hope you remembered to bring some canvas bags or a backpack because you’ve got a long walk home and the provided plastic bags might not make it.
Timeframe: 30-90 minutes depending on decisiveness and how fast you can walk 1.5 miles while carrying all those plants. 

Step 6: Open a beer and get planting. 
Timeframe: 15-20 minutes

Do you feel accomplished? Good. That won’t last. See those two pots from last year? Those are dead. Gotta do something about that. Also, you should have bought larger window boxes… look at all that empty rail space. And you want basil and other herbs… where are you going to put those? Slacker. 

The next weekend….
Repeat steps 3-6, with some changes. 

Step 3:  Return to OBI for more dirt, hangers for your small pots (don’t bother measuring, you can eyeball it), and fertilizer. Fun fact: ‘fertilizer’ in German is ‘dünger.’ Don’t you love it when German just makes sense?? 

Step 4: Stairs didn’t get any shorter.  

Step 5: Return to the farmers market for more flowers and also herbs. Tack on an extra stop to a home decor store for stuff to make the balcony more ‘cozy.’ Or something.  

Step 6: Crack that beer and get going.

Oh look, more stuff.

Since you’ve been doing so much heavy hauling in the warm weather, I recommend a Radler over a straight beer. Much more refreshing for your upcoming planting session. 


Step 7: Feel slightly more accomplished, open a bottle of wine to drink in the sun, and take lots of pictures of flowers. They might die next week… we don’t know.

My teeny-tiny herb garden with rosemary, basil and lemon thyme.
Campanula Carpatica
Trailing Lobelia

My new view.
Cape Marigold/Rain Daisy
Franconian wine.
Alright, alright, I’ll be German and put in some Geraniums.

Lamps and tablecloth from Butler’s

I’m still debating on these cool, stackable, 3-leaf clover shaped planters for tomatoes or something else, but for now this is pretty good. OBI also had some beautiful hanging baskets and small trees, but it’s that whole “whatever you buy must be carried home and up the damn stairs” thing. Plus I don’t think there’s any way I could hang a basket without needing a power drill or something to secure it. But things to think about. Either way, I’m happy with the results thus far and looking forward to some quality time out there this summer! 



15 thoughts on “Making Your Balcony Awesome

  1. This looks awesome. I have garden envy…I have neither garden nor balcony. In Depot (when I was in Germany last) they had these cool pots/lanterns/bird feeders which screwed onto the rails..just incase you wanted a light or a bird feeder!

    The radler and wine makes me thirsty. Yum!

    Rosie x

  2. Thanks Alyx! I guess with all that time invested, it just means I can't move for a while… which is okay because I'd have to carry all the stuff down the stairs again. Agh. 🙂

  3. Thanks Rosie! Depot is dangerous… I didn't even go in there for this project yet because I'm afraid of what might happen. Butler's had some really great stuff but I held myself to the lanterns for the time being. We'll see what happens. 🙂

  4. Looks beautiful! We also have the standard Geraniums — they are just so easy to take care of and beautiful too. The Cape Marigolds are gorgeous, too.

  5. Awesome tips & tricks! We have a lovely balcony we just realized we are not using to it's full potential. My Mann's big contribution was tiki torches. Now I am going to try to bring the greenage with your tips – thanks!

  6. this so makes me wish i had a terrace. blahhhh. the only terrace i have is to go on the roof of my building (when im living in bergen) and even then i have to fight seagulls and their nasty poop!

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