Terraces and Decks Terraces and Decks

Your first thought when contemplating how to decorate a balcony, terrace or deck may be that there isn't much choice; a couple of weather-proof chairs, maybe an umbrella for shade, and voila, right?

Well, sure - but only if you're extremely short on imagination. The truth is that even a tiny terrace can provide you with enough space to test your decorating skills. The fact that the space is small makes the job even more challenging; you have to work hard to give it the mood you want without over-crowding. You may prefer a clean, sparse look, or you may want an elegant terrace that's overflowing with flowers. There are plenty of ways to make it your own.

The first step is to consider the three Sheffield Guidelines for Interior Design: function, mood, and harmony. What is the function of the terrace for you? Is to lounge in the sun - or shade? Is it to entertain friends over a meal or drinks? Is it to provide a space for flowers or herbs, or even for a vegetable garden?

  • Tip: Even the smallest of terraces, what are known as "Juliet balconies" provide enough room to grow some plants; although a table and chairs may be out of the question. All you need is enough room for a couple of small planters and then you can choose from a selection of blooming vines. An old favorite is the morning glory because they're so easy to grow and they produce those beautiful, full flowers. Also consider sweet peas, and, for evening blooms, moonflowers.

In fact, climbers are a logical choice for larger terraces as well. Some, such as elephant vine, will quickly provide a spreading fence of greenery between your terrace and your neighbor's, giving you privacy without making you seem unfriendly. When your space is limited, you need to consider the investment of space and your return on that investment; with climbing vines, you get a great rate of return. Elephant vine can be trained up a trellis, and if you plan carefully, you'll get a good amount of shade in the deal. You may have thought that some vines, such as clematis, can only be grown in a garden, but they'll do just fine in a large planter.

For larger terraces, you should consider flower height, just as you do when planting a garden. You could plant some tall growers, such as Cleome hasslerana, which is a favorite of hummingbirds, and at their feet cluster a few dwarf dahlias and some alyssum, which are easily grown in planters.

Hanging planters also make a good home for anything that will trail and spill over, such as ivies and creeping phlox, especially if the planter is hanging above eye level. Creeping phlox does best in dappled sunlight.

Many planters are now being made specifically for the challenges faced by those gardening on balconies and terraces. Watering, for instance, can become quite a chore when your garden is protected from rain by the terrace above it, and many balconies don't come equipped with water connections for a hose. The solution is purchasing planters and window boxes with built-in water reservoirs, allowing you to eliminate some of those endless trips with your little watering can back and forth to your kitchen faucet.

There are also modular planter systems available that allow you to join several trough style pots together for creating "L" shapes that can wrap around your deck. These can give you an amazing amount of soil space to plant in, allowing you to use larger trees and shrubs. Some systems can even be stacked to create multilevel planting surfaces.

If your aspirations for the function of the terrace don't end at gardening, there's a variety of terrace furniture available to fit any size and mood. Styles and materials range from modern, brightly-colored plastics to romantic, old-fashioned wrought iron. Before buying, carefully read the care requirements, and make sure you get something with a solid guarantee against weather damage.

When you're looking at the mood of the furniture, take care to match it to the mood of the flowers. Tea roses and morning glories have a more old-fashioned feeling to them. Pansies, daisies, and impatiens will go better with more modern furniture, creating a more casual mood.

Consider too, how you'll light your terrace for the evenings. Candles are lovely, but you'll need candle holders that will shelter them from the evening breezes. There are also several kinds of hanging lanterns from which to choose.

Finally, make sure everything harmonizes-from trellis to lighting. Be careful that your colors don't clash, either among the flowers or between flowers and furniture.

By paying careful attention to planting and furnishing your terrace, you can end up with an outdoor space that is breathtaking - even if your view from the top is less than spectacular.

Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Interior Design

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