In Which I Get Ambitious for Our Balcony Garden (updated)

Our new digs has a large L-shaped balcony, which at the moment is completely naked. It cries out for plant life and I aim to supply it with all it desires. I’ve decided I want to go with Australian natives. Because, well, I love so many of them. However, my knowledge is a bit on the small side. I know what I like but I don’t have much idea of what goes well in pots in direct sunlight. We face north-west and north-east and there is loads of sun.

Here’s my list of Aussie plants I like the look and/or smell of:

If any of you have any experience growing any of these in Sydney I’d love to hear about it. And if you can suggest other gorgeous Aussie native plants that would work I am all ears. Thanks to the twitter folk who’ve already made suggestions. No non-natives though. I am being very jingoistic in my plant selection. Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Um, etc.


Update: added kangaroo paws at Patty’s suggestion.


  1. Patty on #

    Grevilleas should be fine, ditto Melaleucas. I’d try some of the small Banksias. Oh, and Kangaroo paws.
    Basically, it’s going to get very hot and very dry on that balcony. Use the largest pots possible, fill with plain potting mix, plain as you can get. Don’t use fertiliser. Most natives are not too fond of that, growing, as they do in nature, in nutrient-starved soil.
    With the hotness and the dry-ness, I am thinking you’d have a fair amount of success with natives from WA, like the small Banksias and others from the Protea family.
    Strangely enough, a lot of the local natives are notoriously hard to cultivate. In the Native Plant Society, they call Boronias ‘annuals’, because you just can’t keep them alive in the garden.

  2. Justine on #

    Patty: Thank you! And how could I have forgotten Kangaroo paws? Must add to the list.

    David: That is amazing.

  3. Joey-la on #

    Hey Justine,
    I think that kangaroo paws are a very good addition to the list. I can’t really advise much on balconies or what to grow in Sydney, but one year I grew ‘Joey Paws’ in my garden and they did really well. Joey paws are a real thing, not just something I invented because my name is Joey! They are just like kangaroo paws but slightly smaller and I found that they are easier to grow.
    When I grew them they were in almost full sun, but this was in Melbourne so this may all be pointless!
    Hope this helps, even just a little bit

  4. PixelFish on #

    That reminds me….I’ll have to set up my balcony garden soon too.

    (I got the Urban Homesteader book I saw on Boing Boing two summers back, but haven’t had a chance or a balcony til this year.)

  5. Patty on #

    Bonsai Eucalyptus sounds like a great idea. I was also going to suggest the smaller gums from WA, and even the lemon-scented gum with the pretty red flowers, which I think grows into a massive tree in WA but is never more than a small tree in Sydney gardens. The other thing not to overlook would be the various daisies and the large-flowered climbing Hibbertia that does very well in Sydney (they sell these all over the nurseries). There is a small Lomandra out that is actually a rare species, but is very hardy. Lomandras (reed-like clumps you’ll see on many road verges in Sydney) may look boring, but they’re very good as a screen and filler and they’re impossible to kill.

  6. Thomas on #

    I’d suggest either Eucalyptus macrocarpa or Eucalyptus rhodantha. Both are relatively small bushes that would fit on a balcony and would enjoy the heat and dryness. They don’t look like normal eucalypts — they are weird gangly bushes — but they smell right and they have huge flowers by gum tree standards, up to 10cm across.

  7. ClareSnow on #

    Ooh you want to grow native plants – you rock! I grow them in my Perth garden, so my gardening experience won’t help you much. but I’ll give you advice anyway 😛

    I was going to say you can’t grow a euc in a pot, but bonsai dint occur to me. Even so I don’t think you want to try making your own bonsai – it’s hard. But E. macrocarpa is beautiful. even tho the plant is small, the flowers are the biggest of any euc.

    Re: Joey Paws. i think these may be cats paws (altho joey sounds much cooler) Anigozanthos humilis

    Tetragonia tetragonoides (New Zealand Spinach, Warrigal Greens) edible! use instead of english spinach or silver beet. and i don’t think its possible to kill it, but it does need pruning. Cushion Bush (Leucophyta brownii) has beautiful silver foliage and grows on the coast like TT, so its kinda hard to kill.

    Hibbertia is a good idea. Chorizema would be easy, with very pretty flowers. Dianella is easy too – they have strappy leaves like roo paws and while their flowers are kinda boring, they have very cool purple berries, that taste truely disgusting, but won’t kill you. you might get birds visiting to eat them 🙂

    Annual everlasting daisies are easy. this one or there’s a WA one with pink and white flowers. In Perth you sow them in June and they grow and flower in spring and die in summer, so it might not work if you’re in US in june. but you may be able to sow them later in sydney. you collect the seed when they die and save for next year.

    Cockies tongue is way cool and will take any (mis)treatment you give it, cos it grows in Perth sand with 6mths of no rain. And the one in my garden is currently cranking even tho it doesn’t get any love. You might have to prune it tho.

    L. biloba has the most stunning blue blue blue flowers. I’ve never tried growing it, but its fellow lesch, L. linarioides is bloody diff to grow – i’ve killed two. But try L. biloba, i’m sure its not as picky.

    And get your plants from a native plant nursery, not just bunnings or whatever. they’ll be cheaper and staff can give you advice. When potting them use a potting mix for native plants which has less fertiliser (they do need some, but phosphorous kills many of them). you can get native plant potting mix from any nursery.

  8. Eddie on #

    Lilly Pilly does very well in pots. I love gymea lillies, but I don’t think you will be able to grow them in a pot. What about a cycad? They do well in pots, and there are some native species. They grow very slowly – mine doesn’t look very different now to when I got it 5 years ago, but they are quite striking plants and can cope with the heat. I would suggest getting pots as big as you can manage – the plants will be much happier and won’t dry out as quickly on your north facing balcony. Buy the small plants in tubestock if you can, rather than getting tempted by the larger plants in the nursery – the little ones will do much better, and outgrow the big ones soon enough. I agree with ClareSnow – don’t go to bunnings! Go to a specialist nursery, where they treat the plants properly! There is quite a nice nursery near tempe station, with native and introduced plants… Good luck!

  9. Janet on #

    Our front garden is all plants native to our area, except for an Australian native, a Weeping Bottlebrush, which was here when we bought the house. The hummingbirds love it, so I don’t mind making an exception.

    Anyway…there are plants in the same genus (callistemon) that can probably be grown on a balcony. I’m used to thinking of it as a great big tree, so I was surprised to find out most related plants are small and shrubby.

  10. Thomas on #


    It would be tricky to grow most Eucalyptus in pots, but with a slow-growing drought-tolerant species, a nice big deep container and fast-draining soil it might well work. Eventually the plant is likely to notice it’s not in proper ground and start whingeing, but that might take years.

    I asked Teh Google, and the reports of failed attempts I found were from people who had tried to grow full-size tree species in a container, which isn’t going to work. If I had enough sun here in Seattle I’d try it, but I don’t.

  11. Gillian on #

    Pigface, lillypilly, finger lime, melaleuca, lemon myrtle: it’s a kitchen garden!

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