Fragrance & Function, My Patio Garden


Before I became an empty nester and downsized to an apartment in the city, I was an avid gardener. I loved frame my home with blooming color and lush greenery. With a huge backyard, I enjoyed raised bed vegetable gardens where I grew a Spring and Winter crop. Transplanted into a new apartment, I sat on my tiny patio and thought gardening was a closed chapter in my past. Boy was I wrong. Where there’s a will there is always a way.


Well into my third growing season, I feel confident in my patio gardening abilities. Since I have limited space, I must make the most of it. The theme of my garden is “Fragrance and Function”.

Once I had a theme, I began planning what plants to select. I have an entry patio as well as a private balcony patio. Both are covered but get about three hours of afternoon sun, the hottest part of the day in the summer. This was an important consideration.

I first designed my entry patio. I chose a comfy, wicker settee for two with a side table as my centerpiece. I had another small table that I placed against another wall with a tropical picture hanging above it.

With the furniture arranged, I could now add my plants. Next to the settee is a date palm, selected for my husband who loves to look at palms and eat dates. It is a slow growing variety that should top out at a height of about six feet. Next to the palm, and a little bit behind it, is a banana tree elevated on a decorative stone so that it stands taller than the palm. This is also a fruit bearing tree. The banana variety is small and not very sweet but I use them to cook with because of their firm flesh.

Right next to the door is a papaya, growing tall and straight. I am attempting to “bonsai” it and keep its height at six feet. It may bear fruit next year. If it doesn’t, it may become the ornamental exception to my fragrant and functional garden. Next to the papaya tree is the side table which features a broom plant. When in bloom it has yellow blossoms that offer a citrus fragrance. It seems to help ward off mosquitoes that may want to lurk at the door.

On the other side of the door is the second table bearing a large potted mint on top and a medium size potted rosemary tucked under the table just a bit. Everyone comments on the aroma of these two herbs as they come inside. Off to the side of this table is a fig tree that I will keep pruned to a maximum height of six feet. This spring I got two plump and fabulous figs. I anticipate a fuller crop next year.

To maximize my garden space, I hung window boxes on the decorative, metal railing that encloses this patio. Three hanging baskets are above. The window boxes contain jasmine, miniature roses and lantana. These are all sun and heat loving varieties that grow with a lovely draping effect as they extend over the edges of the boxes. The jasmine and roses create a cloud of fragrance while the lantana attracts butterflies. Hanging just under the patio eave are pansies, which enjoy a bit more shade than the window boxes that get full sun in the afternoon. My pansies dress up salads. I prefer the blue ones. They have a minty flavor.

My balcony garden features a water fountain and a two bird cages. The balcony is long and narrow with a sliding glass door entry. At one end of the patio is the water feature. Facing the water feature from the opposite end of the patio is a low, oversized lounging are for two. Next to the water feature is a large flight cage. In front of the patio window hangs the other bird cage. Surrounding the water fountain, and arranged on patio stones of various heights, are potted hibiscus, for tea, asparagus fern, and caladiums of a variety of colors, I use both in flower arrangements.

Window boxes are affixed to the four inch wide wooden bannister. They are planted with fragrant jasmine, which I have climbing up runners to create a screen. When the wind blows the patio fills with the fragrance of jasmine. There is also a climbing yellow rose that is very aromatic when in bloom. One window box contains anise which is not only fragrant, smelling like licorice, but also functional. The stalk is great to eat as an acid reducer if you have an upset tummy.

Hanging baskets fill in a few key empty places. One serves the purpose of growing whatever sprouts from my birdseed. I use this to give my birds fresh greens. Another basket contains pineapple mint which I love to use in the kitchen in any number of dishes. Right by the entry door is a large potted gardenia which is the dominant fragrance over the whole balcony garden when it is in bloom.

I get great pleasure from my patio gardens with minimal effort. I water once weekly in cool weather, twice weekly in warm weather. Plants are fed every other week and rotate what pots I can. Pruning is performed as necessary, which is not very often. My neighbors call me the “crazy plant lady” which is a badge I wear with honor.

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