Ideas hand picked from my garden garunteed to liven up any balcony or small porch.
I’ve been cleaning up my balcony this summer. It was what could be expected of a small back porch - cluttered, dusty, and not very hospitable. A year ago, I set up some Halloween decorations and never took them all down. Then, my neighbor spilled a whole drink off their balcony and it got all over my seat cushions and chairs. All past attempts at plants had died during a surprise winter snow. Dead plants, weird stains. My balcony was a mess.
I decided that enough was enough and from now on I would be one of those “cool neighbors” with a fancy, stylish balcony. Except, I don’t wanna pay for anything if I can help it and the rest has to be DIY. And I’ll need color - lots of it. And new plants. Now I’ve got a theme. Artsy Hippie Boho Chic.™
Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. A flurry of simple crafts and ideas that helped make my drab, dusty balcony into something more warm, inviting and vibrant. Perhaps they can help you transform your balcony or patio into something more fun, too…
Hit up those curb alert specials
First things first, for a cool porch you need some places to sit and some stuff to put things on. Most of what is outside on my balcony has always been curb alert items that were found near my neighborhood dumpster, where college kids often haul off most of their non essentials when moving out. In fact, neighborhoods with a high population of college students (near a school for example) tend to throw away really good stuff. Often times, they’re just looking to get rid of bulk so they don’t have to pay to get it shipped across the country or whatever. Their loss is our gain- in the shape of $20 coffee tables and slightly rusted shelves!
I could go on and on about the best places to check for curb alert stuff, but that’s a different article completely. For now I will say, keep your eyes peeled for the good stuff, don’t be embarassed to rummage or pick, and start growing your collection of free stuff. Why does it matter if something on your porch is brand new or not, anyways? It’s going to get rained on, stuff spilled on it, bugs crawling on it… that shiny new table or chair isn’t going to stay shiny forever, so you might as well just lean in.
Refurbished Chairs Project
I have found so many cool things on curb alert- my favorites are easily these wooden chairs. They retail anywhere from $60 - $150 a chair in the store. I got them for free next to the dumpster, both in great shape, just missing the cushions. The cushions themselves can be $30 a piece, but I had some fabric and stuffing laying around so it cost me nothing to make new ones.
I made mine fancy, but a simple square pillow shape would be an excellent first timer’s sewing project. The trick is either using a “weatherproofed” fabric, or like in my case, jumping through a few hoops to prepare regular fabric for being outdoors. I “treated” the fabric with a light layer of gesso on the back to prevent the fabric from soaking up as much moisture. It works against rain showers, but I don’t trust leaving my cushions out in heavy rain! If it’s storming I will usually stack them against my door or somewhere they won’t get waterlogged. But hey… it was all free, and they’re comfortable chairs, so it’s worth the small sacrifice.
FYI: If this is a topic that interests you,I wrote a previous article where my friend and I reupholstered this old ottoman she found, and the results were shocking.
Another one of my favorite finds are these metal shelves. I think they’re intended to be extra shelving for bathrooms, but who says I can’t load it down with potted plants and weird trinkets instead?! For some reason I find these on curb alert all the time, but I’ve only got room for so many on my porch so I usually just leave them be. This slighty rusted metal one seemed especially sturdy still, so it’s my newest addition to the balcony and has allowed for a ton of extra vertical storage space, which is essential to small dwelling spaces like this one.
Decorate those planters
One of my main goals for my new balcony space was that I wanted it to have more color. I decided the best way to start would be to grab a few cheap terra cotta pots and get to decorating. Here’s some of the various techniques I went with:
Good Ol’ Fashioned Paint
There’s nothing wrong with painting a few pots with regular paint! However, don’t expect the paintings to last forever, especially left untreated. How harsh the elements are on your porch will determine how many years you can enjoy your painted pot without touching it up. There’s an elaborate wikihow article about how to properly seal and paint a terra cotta pot, but I’m kind of of the shool of thought that as the decorated pot chips and ages, it grows character and interest. And honestly, the more I tried to “protect” the pot paintings, the more it ultimately peeled off or has otherwise not aged well. On the other hand, I still have a terra cotta pot my mom painted for one Halloween years ago with nothing but cheap acrylics, and even after being in the sun for years on end, the paint is still holding on fairly strong.
Mom’s “Hair of Dog” planter pot. This pot has to be at least 10 years old. Mine are all less than that.
This time around, I tenatively sprayed a few coats of Polycrilic on the pots after I was finished painting them. We’ll see how long those paintings last. Here’s one of my favorites from the new batch, a fun little galaxy scene that just looks stunning with this little Stonecrop plant growing in it:
Here’s a pot that has seen its better days. As you can see, the paint is starting to slowly chip off. Still, I think there’s something intriuging about its aging process. How the dirt fills into the grooves of the original brush strokes, how the colors have darkened and changed over time, how twisted and gnarled the chipped paint looks. It all tells a story. Nature is adding her contribution to your artwork.
Colored Duct Tape
A simple little craft especially if you can’t afford fancy pots. Dress up cheap plastic pots (like the one your plant will come in) with some decorative duct tape. I took some of the extra pots and doubled them up before covering them with the tape to give them a little more structure. If you’re trying to play the long game with your plants, you’ll have to take them inside during harsh winter to avoid their roots from freezing. Plastic pots provide no insulation from the elements. But if you just want a few annuals to add a fun seasonal splash to your balcony, this is a quick craft to upgrade any plant’s style even more. Use plastic pots to experiment with the other decoration ideas, too.
Another easy peasy decorating task that turns out really cute, especially if you have some choice swatches of fabric lying around somewhere. I used regular mod podge and we’ll see how it goes- mod podge is not even waterproof so I may run into some issues with this pot eventually. If you can get your hands on it, the outdoors mod podge formula would be a better bet. But all you have to do is collage some fabric onto the pot- the results kind of remind me of quilted blanket squares.
I’ve always wanted to try that DIY craft where you take cut outs from comic books and glue them onto a shoe in a neat collage pattern. But I don’t need any more shoes. I could always use some more planters though, so I collaged the comics onto that instead. Same notes as with the fabric scrap planter: it’d be better with a sealant, and outdoor mod podge, but that stuff costs extra money and effort and I’m all about cheap simplicity right now.
There are multiple reasons you’d benefit from throwing a few decorative rocks in your garden pots. Besides looking beautiful, did you know that your decorative rocks can help as a “defense” against squirrels and other pests? Don’t let their cute looks fool you - squirrels can be your number one enemey when it comes to growing plants in containers. They just love to dig up that soft soil to bury their acorns in! Prized Posession Plants be damned. However, squirrels don’t like shiny or reflective things, and they have a hard time moving rocks out of the way in order to dig. While it might not stop every fat greedy squirrel that comes along, adding these pretty preventative measures will help in keeping your plants from becoming an easy target for harassment.
Bonus tip: More squirrel repellant ideas. Get some of those pointy wooden skewers and stick them down in your plant pots to make the dirt less desirable for digging. If the squirrels are being real jerks, you can always sprinkle a little cayenne pepper into the dirt… it won’t hurt birds or plants, but the squirrels will absolutely hate it. I know it sounds mean, but you’ll understand a lot better the first time a squirrel comes in and ransacks your hours of hard work with one casual fluffy swish of its tail!
Cute Plant Labels
I wanted some sort of labeling system that would be nice to look at and also a little informative (because it’s hard to remember all their watering requirements, okay?!) So I grabbed some scrapbooking paper, some self adhesing laminating paper, and my favorite drawing pens. In addition to their names, I added important information like their watering, temperature and sunshine needs. That helped a lot when I was arranging them out on the balcony- some of them prefered shade and some of them could take the heat.
Silly Hats for Cacts!
I saved the absolute best planter decorating tip for last. Cact in the Hat. The little hats at the craft store for dolls convieniently fit on top of cacti. And it’s a scientific fact that hats improve cactus happiness by at least 10%. Here’s Seymore and Leroy enjoying their new stylish hats, don’t they look happy?
Nothing adds a little ambiance like some string lights. They make the balcony feel super cozy in the evening time. To keep from tacking holes in the side paneling, I used some command hooks to hang the lights instead. I’ve also seen people wrap them around their balcony railing which looks nice as well. A smart use of lighting can make any outdoor patio the perfect place to curl up on those quiet summer nights.
My balcony garden is a work in progress, but it’s growing! I still plan on adding a few things including solar lights for the planters and maybe even a few more plants. I’m really happy with the results so far though! What are your small space garden ideas? What elements make the back porch your favorite place to be? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.