Plant Systems

“Living on the edge”, the balcony garden designers guild

Cecilia Macaulay of

3.jpgLiving on the Edge is about being part of creating a cutting-edge sustainable culture, of being powerful, creative and daring. It’s about empowering Melbourne’s inner-city residents to create and maintain lush balcony gardens. Edge gardens bring you to the’ ‘happening’ edge between private and public life – extend your boundaries physically and socially, as you get together with others to create.

Edge gardens happen on balconies, verandahs, window boxes. They happen at the back door, on porches and in courtyards, anywhere plants and living things need you, and you need them.

The situation now:

2.jpgInner city residents wish for more contact with nature, but do not know where to start.

Many people bravely try to get balcony gardens going, but a collection of pot plants is not a garden, nor is it a stable system. Pot plants become rarely-visited burdens which struggle on and often die.

Many inner-city residents lack vibrant social connection, and depend on things like internet dating to expand their social circles.

Creative inner city residents lack outlets for express themselves in a project that is meaningful and motivating to them

4.jpgLandfills are unnecessarily filled with kitchen scraps, while our land’s fertility declines.

People embark on worm-composting with enthusiasm for ‘saving the earth’, but when inevitable troubles strike, they do not have the resourcefulness or motivation to find solutions, they become discouraged, and the worm farms are abandoned.

Melbourne’s architectural inheritance of beautiful Victorian-era balconies is an untapped, un-enjoyed resource, while new inner city developments are built with balconies that go unused.

The Future as it could be:


Inner-city residents create balcony gardens in which they spend time each day sitting, eating breakfast, diary writing or debriefing after work.

5.gifThese balcony or ‘edge gardens’ are an expression of the owner’s character and maybe their fantasies, they could be the single area in the persons life where the total environment is under their control and

Their balcony gardens are sustainable as gardens: they have healthy soil, a constantly available water supply (pond, hose, full watering can) and a place for the resident to sit comfortably. They have plants, vines, flowers or art features that delight or are useful to the owner. Because they satisfy the owners real needs , the owner will continue to invest attention and care on them. A ‘Virtuous Circle’ is created

6.jpgWorm composting is undertaken with confidence and persistence, with a information and a community of advisors to help right things as they go wrong.

The gardens and the internet-based Designers Community satisfy real needs of the participants. These are both immediate needs – a place to relax, a way to find a partner or social connection. It also satisfies higher needs: to succeed at something difficult that has an impact on the world, to be socially connected and make exciting new friendships, to know they can have a vision of a new world and the skills and design principles to bring it into being.

Melbourne becomes a city that inspires visitors and travelers with the uniqueness of its inhabitants. There may be jungle balconies, English country garden balconies, Singapore-style tropical enclosed balconies, Permaculture food-forest balconies, Mardi-Gras balconies, Surfie balconies.

Facets of the Project8.jpg

  • A guide to Creating a Sustainable Balcony Garden is put together (web and illustrated print version).
  • Creative people are actively recruited, and with the help of the guide and each other begin creating quirky, self-expressive and useful gardens. Metal workers, calligraphers, gardeners, illustrators, people who wish to be known for their ‘cutting edge’ work.
  • A website display and design hub is created.
  • In the ‘Gallery’ section you can see ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures, view drawn designs of what people are aspiring to build, and see inspiring examples worldwide.
  • In the ‘Forum’ section creators post requests and problems, such as ‘How do I waterproof a half-barrel so it will hold water for a fishpond” or “How do I find out how much weight my balcony will hold”. Members contact each other to offer help or make partnerships to create things together.
  • 7.jpgIn the ‘Resources’ page sponsors and garden-related organizations provide practical information such as how to save seed, where to buy rare-breed seeds, trouble-spotting for worm-farms, and discount pots
  • Balcony of the Month is judged by high-profile gardening personalities, winners are awarded a prizes by sponsor the site. These become models, systems to inspire or aspire to, or to outdo next time.
  • Monthly workshops, presentations and networking parties are conducted. Topics include Starting a Balcony Garden, Creative Thinking, Sustainable Design principles including Permaculture or Edward de Bono’s lateral thinking.
  • Winning gardens are featured in the Media, spreading enthusiasm for the project throughout Melbourne. Porch, Veranda, and Back-door gardens of course are included – anywhere where pot plants and humans get together to fulfill each other’s needs.
  • Melbournians of every kind get hooked, as Edge Gardening fever strikes. More sponsors are attracted, competition and co-operation accelerate, and life is not the same – the boundaries between us, the boundaries of what we are capable of creating have been transformed. A sustainable culture seems something quite within our capabilities.

For more information please contact [email protected].


  1. I am an interior design student in Sydney writing my dissertation urban permaculture, i would love to be emailed a newsletter if you have one and just want to say keep up the good work!! This is a great site!

    1. “urban permaculture” what a great topic! I hope you the best for your dissertation and professional future

  2. I am trying to grow some spinach in an indoor greenhouse. I plan to move some plants to the roof of my building when the weather warms. Any information would be most welcome.

  3. I rent a unit in sydney and am very keen to start this kind of thing at my house but have no idea where to start?Love the site too.

  4. just surfing around and looking at all aspects of agriculture, as i have a nasaa certified organic biodynamic vineyard and i do believe it to be more of self susstaining environment than just organic as we try to only use product from our farm in our methodes of agriculture, permaculture is in keeping with our philosophy, great site

  5. Hi Daniel
    try and take a Permaculture Design Course and get along to the Permaculture North Sydney meettings they are full of interesting helpful people.
    Cheers Geoff

  6. Lovely pictures, however they all require “a constantly available water supply (pond, hose, full watering can)” something that can no longer be guaranteed with increasing water restrictions in sunny and drought stricken Sydney.
    I am feeling quite despondent as a keen rooftop gardener watching my native plants and herbs alike wither while trying to be water responsible.
    Hope the weather is better in Melbourne!

  7. Hi, I live in Melbourne and would like to start a little permaculture garden on my apartment’s balcony. Where can I get some information on how to go about this? Are there any books on it? Did the design course you mentioned ever go ahead? I’d really appreciate any info you can send my way.

    Tahnee Woolf

    Hi Tahnee
    contact Cecilia on [email protected] she is working with many balcony gardens in Melbourne.

    Cheers Geoff

  8. I was hoping you could provide a list of the plants that are best suited to balconies. Balconies tend to have a similar climate to a desert – often no rainfall, very hot with high winds. Can you suggest some appropriate plants for this climate?

    Also, with the advent of water restrictions – greywater recycling would seem an obvoious solution for sustaining a balcony garden. Are there any systems available in Australia that would be suited to an apartment?

  9. Im holding a free 3 hour balcony Gardening workshop on Saturday Feb 28th 2009 , Sponsored by the Eco-Center in St Kilda. If you are a Port Phillip resident, do come, and make a firm plan to create something amazing.
    9534 0670

  10. Hey all

    It would be great to have a forum/newsletter group about gardening in Sydney/Melbourne/Australia on balconies etc as its hard to get info for our climate, and great for people just starting out. I was partic surprised about the high winds which literally ripped out some of the seedlings though i guess that is an issue all over the world.
    I have a cherry tomato plant which is great and we’ve had over 200 tomatoes this season, but I was recently told that it should be pulled out in winter and a new one bought and planted. Is this the case? It would be really sad if it was as have nursed this one and have it on big trellis etc so quite attached now!
    Any info greatly appreciated.

  11. Dear Greenish thum,
    Eating is never an innocent activity, and a permaculture life means a lot more love and a lot more loss. Dont worry, there will be a new, and maybe equally loved tomato plant growing up quickly next year.

    Yes, It is a great idea to get us balcony gardeners talking together a bit more, as it really is a new frontier (growing successfully, that is.). What can be done? I will help.
    For now, visit my blog for some balcony gardening ideas. Enjoy your Autumn plantings, summer plannings. Id love to hear from you.

  12. I would like to know is there any place that u can suggest me to visit regarding this permaculture, organics farming or urban farming in Melbourne area such as the crystal water Conondale, Brisbane…I’m coming down to Melbourne this coming may…is there anyone that could give me a tour regarding this matter…please reply me asap…tq.

  13. Dear Sam,
    I hope you have a good time in Lovely Melbourne, there is lots going on here. If I were you, I would start with CERES Center for Education and Research in Environmental stratagies, a kind of eco-park on the river, 15 minutes from the city. You could go there for 5 days straight and still have beautiful things to discover (well, some people could). Its a multicultural area, so you might even meet some kinsfolk :)
    My blog might give you some good ideas too. I found and enjoyed your website. Keep up your good, original work for the world.
    All the best,
    Cecilia Macaulay

  14. I’ve been planting out the landing of the staircase outside my apartment. I am restricted by needing to leave a walkway for other residents, and have only a few square feet of space to begin with so I have found a lot of vertical space with hanging and suspended pots on top of tying strings from my handrail to the hanging pots. This is still establishing itself, but I soon hope to have a curtain of beans, peas and jasmine to block out the afternoon sun and nosy neighbours. By this time I will take some photos as I feel it will be something I’m proud of

    I am treating the whole thing as a learning experience as I have lost a lot of seedlings and adult plants, but so far there has been a constant supply of cooking and medicinal herbs (for a limited range of uses) as well as some reasonable crops of legumes and even a couple of capsicums and chillis.

    So far everything is organic, but I am toying with some micro hydroponics. I think the trick to success is constant and sustained planting and maintenance, knowing your sun and good water management practices. As every space is different you’ll have to be creative about all these things.

    I would love to meet up with any other Brisbanites trying the same thing, and will hopefully contact cecilia to start people talking!

    Thanks for this page, I hope my experiences are helpful to others.

  15. great views my company is producing a vertical wall that will allow people to add greenery to the concrete jungle we live in and give nature a chance love to hear from people regarding their views. Imagine driving along and seeing every balcony with a green wall and world smiling back [email protected]

  16. hi there, I’ve stumbled across this site while looking for a balcony garden designer. I’m in an inner suburb in a converted warehouse space with two small balconies. I’d like to grow some of my own food. Oh… I know nothing about gardening. Can anyone give me a pointer to someone who could help design/set this up for me?

  17. Good on you Kate. Well, first I’d recommend you read this article of mine from Mindfood Magazine on how to get started with edible balcony gardening:
    My blog has some good ideas too:

    If you want to make something amazing, without to much trail and error, you could hire me (before April 2010)
    [email protected]

    Hope you dream up something lovely!

  18. Kate / Cecilia, we have manufactured an exciting new balcony product which looks great and you can have a water feature incorporated, can have a seat with some storage or just plant vertically. No hanging baskets.Consider.

  19. Hi
    My name is Jazmine and I am a student photographer. I am passionate about sustainable living and am intrigued by the concepts of permaculture. My next photo essay will highlight the importance and beauty of inner city gardens.Would anyone consider being a part of my project? It is ongoing for the next 3 weeks. I am also happy do give photos to people who become involved.
    [email protected]
    email me!!!!

  20. Does anyone know where these jungle balcony gardens at the top of these pages are located??? would LOVE to get some shots like these for my project.!!!

  21. Dear Jazmine,

    Austrian Jungles, who would have thought. Yes, they were designed by the Austrian Artist Hunderwasser. If you want to stay in Australia, you may have to persuade your neighbours to grow a replica for you (might take a few years, but worth it).

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