What plant to put in our balcony garden?

Credit: Kyknoord

Q: We live in an apartment in the west end in Vancouver. Have you any suggestions for some different plants to put in our balcony garden for the winter? Our balcony is quite protected and we would like to have some plants other than the usual winter pansies.

First, a couple of general suggestions. Cherries, gorgeous as they are, require full sun and are surface-rooting, making them hard to garden under. They are notoriously susceptible to a number of pests and diseases, even when grown in full sun. As you have a small space and would like a wide selection of plants, I would consider a tree that has less competitive roots and one with a vase-shaped habit, such as Cornus kousa var. chinensis. This is also pest and disease free, and does well in part shade. It has pretty white flowers in late spring.

Shade-tolerant shrubs and perennials that bloom in winter include witchhazel* (Hamamelis), winterhazel (Corylopsis), Mahonia × media ‘Charity’, winter-flowering jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum), Viburnum × bodnantense ‘Dawn’*, sweet box* (Sarcococca), winter daphne* (Daphne odora) and hellebores (Helleborus). Many of the early flowering Narcissus are fragrant and will do fine in the sun available to them before the surrounding trees leaf out. (Fragrant plants are marked with an asterisk.)

If you can find Mahonia japonica, it is wonderfully fragrant. The hummingbirds like all Mahonia.

Since you have part shade, consider buying rhododendrons that bloom from early (March) to late (June). The specific cultivars will depend on what is available at nurseries near you, but most will be labeled with early, midseason or late for their bloom time. They will carry you through until summer, but most are not fragrant.

Spring bloomers that are fragrant Viburnum × burkwoodii Japanese mock orange (Pittosporum tobira. This last one needs protection from cold winds; if you live in Victoria, it would do very well.

All of the following summer-blooming shrubs are fragrant. They would prefer full sun but do well in  morning sun only (may bloom less with less sun). Summer daphnes include Daphne × transatlantica ‘Jim’s Pride’, ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’; Daphne × medfordensis ‘Lawrence Crocker’; Daphne × napolitana; and Daphne tangutica. Yellow jasmine (Jasminum humile) blooms from spring until late summer and scrambles, so it needs some support. Abelias bloom over a long period in summer and can be fragrant – buy them in bloom so you can smell them to be sure, as they vary.

The species daylily, Hemerocallis lilioasphodelos, is worth hunting for as it is very fragrant, shade tolerant and easy to grow. Many of the hostas, such as ‘Royal Standard’ and ‘Honey Bells’, are fragrant. Many lilies are fragrant and can tolerate some shade.

Many of the osmanthus are fragrant, but some can get big. Look into Osmanthus delavayi  (spring bloomer) and O. heterophyllus (fall bloomer). It has a nice variegated cultivar as well.

This collection will certainly fill up your garden!