A garden has many benefits: it is a visual treat; it helps to green the environment; and, depending on your choice of plants, can smell good and be edible as well. In tropical Singapore, growing your own garden is that much easier because you do not have the seasons to contend with. The good news is that you do not need acres of land or even a lawn to create your own Eden. Balconies and roof tops can be successfully turned into a personal patch of paradise if you know how.
1. Mind the Logistics
It may seem an unromantic way to begin. But getting the nitty-gritty details down pat is an important start to creating your balcony or rooftop garden. First, be aware of the extra weight a garden will put on the structure. Half a barrel of wet soil can weigh close to 100 kilograms.
Next, think about where you are going to get your water and how it is going to be drained. It would be good to you can have a faucet nearby, especially if carting pails of water through your living room or up to your roof daily is not something you enjoy. Equally important is how the water will be drained. Open-weave rubber mats can be used to protect your floor if yours is a potted garden.
“We can get direct PUB (Public Utilities Board) supply with a backflow negate tap or ‘double-check valves’ to prevent a backflow of water. For larger scale rooftop gardens, if you are using more than 25 cubic metres of water, then a balancing tank (a reservoir used to store water) is recommended,” said Toh Chong Ji, Design Consultant of Weiken Interior Design, a firm with showrooms in IMM Building that specialises in interior design and space and architectural planning.
Find out how much sunlight and wind, if any, your garden will get. This will affect your choice of plants.
Finally, do not forget to allocate space for your gardening tools and fertilizer.
2. Draw Up a Dream Garden
When you have gotten the logistics out of the way, you can start on the fun part – deciding the type of garden you want. Function is an important consideration: do you want a garden to indulge your green thumb, will your garden be your quiet spot or do you intend to entertain there? All these will help you decide if you need garden furniture and the type you need.
“Most balconies are small, so don’t overwhelm it with large furniture. Make sure that the furniture you choose can withstand exposure to sunlight and rain splatter. Rattan and chengai wood are particularly durable,” said Jason Tan, Director, Inner View Design & Contracts Pte. Ltd.
Then, there are different themes you can select. For an English garden, go for plenty of blooms, a stone or brick wall and a wrought-iron trellis.
A country-style garden is more rustic in its feel and can be created by using recycled material for pots: used tins, canning jars, and wooden crates. A resort garden gets its inspiration from Balinese gardens: raised wooden platforms, stone water features, stone statutes and lamps, wooden furniture.
In a Zen garden, bamboo features prominently. A Mediterranean garden can be achieved by using colourful hand-painted pots with sun motifs. A tropical garden has local floral. Lastly, you can opt for a colour theme for your garden.
“But many of the plants featured in English or Mediterranean gardens feature colourful flowering plants that are impossible to grow in our climate. Instead, look for tropical plants with flowers and colourful foliage that can be used as substitutes,” advised Toh.
3. How Does Your Garden Grow
Once you have a theme in mind, it is time to pick your plants. If yours is a tropical garden, orchids, hibiscus, and other plants indigenous to this part of the world will fill your garden. A cactus garden is an excellent choice for Singapore’s warm weather.
Alternatively, you might want a herb garden which will go very well with an English or country-style garden. A little more difficult for a balcony but entirely do-able for a rooftop is an edible garden filled with fruit trees and vegetables.
Another thing that can affect your choice of plants is the microclimate of your garden. If your balcony is on a high floor, the climate there may be considerably different from that on the ground. The amount of sun exposure will also affect your plants. Some plants do not tolerate direct sunlight; herbs, on the other hand, crave plenty of light.
4. The Sky’s the Limit
In land-limited Singapore, space is always an issue. But there is nothing to stop you from growing your garden upwards. You can place your plants on shelves, use trellises, or make your own hanging garden.
“You can also consider installing a green wall. There are two systems you can use: a carrier system (where the plants are “carried” in some kind of container fixed on a wall) and a support system (where the plants are supported so they can climb and grow in a controlled way),” said Toh.
5. The Devil’s in the Detail
What accessories you get for your garden depends on the theme of your garden. Wooden garden furniture, lawn gnomes, toadstools and forest creatures are more for English gardens. Gingham table cloths or curtains, cheery windmills, and a wooden hand-painted birdhouse add to the country theme.
Water features are popular for resort-style gardens. Rock gardens complement Zen gardens and cactus gardens.
Another thing to think about is how you want your garden to look at night. String up lights or include lamps to create a magical look when the sun sets.
“There are several types of garden lighting you can use: bollard lights (short, ground-mounted units), floor lights, wall lights, and upward lights. Whatever you choose, these lights, contrary to functional lighting, are only meant to illuminate certain features in your garden,” said Toh.
So, there you have it – all you need to make your garden in the sky grow. Give it a go, then sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour.