Brightening up a dismal balcony

<p>It’s hard to imagine, but these bleak mid-winter days are the source of hopes and dreams among local gardeners.</p>




carlyn yandle/for metro vancouver


Serving as a weather-proof focal point is an oversized Christmas ornament, threaded through the drainage hole of a silver-painted terracotta plant pot, secured on the bottom with the help of a paper clip and tinfoil tape.

It’s hard to imagine, but these bleak mid-winter days are the source of hopes and dreams among local gardeners.

This is when the seed catalogues arrive in the mail and articles ranking the best-bet plants sprout up in home décor magazines and newspapers. Our public spaces may be more muddy than green, but the minds of gardeners are filled with colourful plans.

Then there are the rest of us. With no gardening hopes heating our hearts, we’re more likely to glance out at our depressing, leafless balconies and shut the blinds.

From November to March, there’s no long-term way to perk up that patio with seasonal greenery in these watery parts. Ornamental kale turns to mush. Sporadic frosts flatten “cold weather” primulas and pansies.

And just in case you’re tempted to jump-start spring by filling those bare pots with already-blooming forced bulbs, you might want to heed the words of a sign I saw recently at a garden store: “We feel it is WAY too early to start planting outdoors.”

In the meantime, there are a few tricks to perking up that dead-winter view — and your point of view. It begins with a little elbow grease. (I can hear the groans already.)

On the next available sunny day, commit an hour or so to removing the layer of brackish slime that builds up over the winter on all outdoor surfaces.

Turn on the music and get ready to get down — on your hands and knees. Throw on some outdoor clothing and rubber gloves and move any furniture to one corner of the space.

Dunk a bristle brush into a bucket of soapy, bleachy warm water, or better: water sprinkled with TSP, available at your local hardware store. (I haven’t tried diluted white vinegar, but that promises to be an environmentally-responsible alternative.)

Rinse with a hose or bucket of clear water if your balcony has an enclosed downspout, otherwise mop up the excess using a sponge-mop and rinse bucket of fresh water.

Next, move any weather-proof furniture into a pleasing arrangement. I depend on the painted cast-aluminum café set to defy anything Mother Nature flings our way.

Finally, establish a weather-proof focal point on a table, or create a grouping to foil a barren corner. Light-reflective, water-proof elements to consider are a mirrored Victorian gazing ball, metal plant pots or trays filled with polished pebbles, concrete columns or small metal sculptural items.

Carlyn Yandle is a Vancouver journalist with her own room-planning business, Home Reworks ( She dwells on urban-home issues every Thursday in Metro.

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