Not everybody has a large garden in which bushes and trees can be planted, so I thought I would address those who might enjoy their compact spaces or balconies more, if they knew what to plant.
Forgive me if I have touched on this subject before, but perhaps you or someone you know has a balcony that could benefit from a few plants, and to my mind nothing looks nicer, even from the roadside below, than plants on a balcony. You can still leave space for your chairs for enjoying your coffee or glass of wine (or clothes airer for that matter).
First check the weight-bearing capabilities of your balcony, and however nice they look, it would be wiser choose lightweight resin or plastic pots rather than heavy traditional terracotta or concrete pots – the ‘fakes’ are quite realistic, but so much lighter. And when picking soil, select compost that is specifically formulated as being lightweight if you can.
Take into account which way your balcony faces – does it get full sun or is it shady? The sun can scorch tender plants, so those with silver foliage like lavender and artemisia - which are better at reflecting sunlight - are a good choice.
If the balcony is not very sheltered, or perhaps sea-facing and exposed to the full blast of salty wind, you will need to either create some shelter in the form of windbreaks or choose plants for exposed spots. Take inspiration from the plants that thrive in blustery coastal gardens.
Bedding plants are a surprisingly good choice for a balcony, with endless varieties to try, refreshing your displays with something different each year if you wish. For full sun, consider zinnias, pelargoniums and coleus. Begonias and nicotianas will do well if your balcony is in shade for part of the day. Mix and match, perhaps perennials and annuals, and you will learn which is better by trial and error.
Herbs do well on balconies, you can hook their pots over the railings or your wall to increase your space to grow more varieties, as most herb plants are relatively small. And you get nice fresh additions for cooking with, that are always within reach!
For the summer, have a go at strawberries, they do well in pots and special strawberry containers can be bought to increase your pickings! You can even use hanging baskets for some varieties.
Cacti do well In most conditions, just be careful of prickly ones round your feet and ankles or those of youngsters, and ensure they don’t poke any pets that might relish sitting in their shade. Succulents are a good choice, and the advantage of all cactus varieties is they are slow growing and need very little attention.
And our old friend, the tomato, can be grown in pots in a small garden or balcony, and would do well placed in front of a trellis against a bare wall. They will need a fair bit of watering, so check if any excess water might drip off your terrace onto the one below, so provide a good-sized saucer or shallow trough beneath your pots. Most gardening books state that tomatoes need at least eight hours of full sun each day, so bear that in mind if your chosen space is a bit shady.
And don’t forget to accessorise! - Some well-chosen accessories can help personalise your space - lanterns, a small table set or even floor cushions. Light it up with fairy lights - I found some battery-operated string lights that switch on and off themselves that could be wound round your handrail, round your plants or even placed in a bundle inside a tall jug as a sparkling centrepiece - an easy addition to create a relaxing space. Make good use of mirrors too, they reflect your plants and light, and will give the illusion of a bigger space. Total privacy is difficult to achieve, but tall plants, climbing vines, weatherproof textiles and fabric hangings are excellent for your space, and might add some much-needed shade, too.
Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man.