With soaring rents, the most affordable accommodation
for many UAE residents is an apartment. While few apartments have gardens, many of them do have outdoor areas, such as terraces or balconies. With the clever use of potted plants, it is possible to transform a simple outdoor space into a trendy urban garden.

"To set up a sustainable balcony garden, the selection of your plant material is critical," says Jeremy Spencer, landscape manager at Orient Irrigation in Dubai. "Select plants suited to

Also, do not select a plant purely on the merits of its flower. Most plants flower infrequently, particularly when situated on
a balcony. It is better to look at the colour and structure of the plant and its leaves — rather than the flowers — when determining your plant selection."

Environmental factors

"The choice of plants for a container garden is more or less decided by the environment," says Caleb Asabe Mbalanya, plant acquisition coordinator for Desert Group in Dubai.

"Once you have studied the environmental factors that can affect plant growth, such as the amount of light available and the wind conditions, you can choose suitable plants to grow."
With limited ground space, Mbalanya says another trick is to make use of vertical space. "To increase your growing space, use pots with trellises to grow up and hanging pots to grow down," he says. "You can grow many vegetables and herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and mint."

Before investing in a container garden, it is important to decide how much time you will dedicate to its maintenance, says Ben Haberfield, a garden designer at Grow Gardens in Dubai. "If you don't have a lot of time then you should consider cacti gardens or container water gardens," he says. "Container water gardens are water-filled containers that have plants such as nymphaea (water lily), nelumbo nucifera (lotus), and pistia stratiotes — a floating plant that looks like a lettuce.

Pottering about

In any container garden, the pots can be used as a design feature. There are many different types available, which can enhance the appearance of the garden and support plant growth. "Large rectangular pots are very space-efficient as they can be used in rows," says Mbalanya.

According to Sunil Sawlani, managing director of Royal Gardenscape in Dubai, plant pots must have good drainage. "In a pot, there is a smaller area for the roots to absorb water," he says. "This means balcony plants need to be watered regularly."

Sawlani also believes the pot's material
is important.

"Terracotta, ceramic, wooden, fibreglass or concrete pots will protect the roots from the heat of the sun," he says. "Black plastic pots should be avoided, especially in summer. They will cause the roots to overheat." To ensure the longevity of the container garden, plants need to be re-potted regularly. "This will provide more space for the roots to develop and the rest of the plant can grow," says Spencer.

"It is vital to monitor the amount of water the plants are receiving. In the summer, they may require watering every day, but during the winter it can be as little as once a week — especially if they are in full shade."

Apart from plants, other features such as sculptures and water fountains can be used to enhance the aesthetic appeal and add interest to the space. "A simple design idea
is to highlight the corners of the balcony with interesting garden décor," says Sawlani. "Sculptures can look very elegant and become an artistic focal point.

You can also use self-contained portable fountains. Theses
are widely available in countless designs and can be crafted from various materials, such as stone, marble and metal."
So no matter how little outdoor space you have, with the help of a few potted plants and a touch of imagination, you can create a relaxing haven in the midst of the concrete jungle. n