Gardens - Featured Gardens

A benevolent balcony makeover

Issue 10060001

This article appeared in June 2010 issue

Inviting plant material and a soothing aesthetic refurbish the balcony at Toronto's Ronald McDonald House

Every year hundreds of families from all over Canada travel to downtown Toronto seeking top-of-the-line medical treatment for their child's critical illness, and for many of them Ronald McDonald House is a home away from home. Just steps from The Hospital for Sick Children, Ronald McDonald House provides families with a place to stay while their child is in treatment, often for months at a time. "We're lucky to 
be so close to the hospital," says Jane Marco, executive director at Ronald McDonald House Toronto, "but the congested urban environment means we don't have the luxury of a garden where people can escape or meditate, or just get some fresh air." A small concrete balcony surrounded by downtown buildings is the closest thing to outdoor space Ronald McDonald House has, and the dull view, dreary atmosphere and tired decor didn't exactly make for a welcoming oasis.

Always up for a challenge, our editor, Erin McLaughlin, partnered with Peter Guinane of Oriole Landscaping to transform this underused outdoor terrace. "We wanted to soften all that concrete and just infuse some life into the space," says Peter. "The plants we brought in were really key to that transformation. Real plants with different heights and textures, things that would blow in the wind—it made all the difference to the space." Quick decorating fixes included painting out the concrete with Farrow & Ball's Pale Blue paint, and bringing in some new furniture from President's Choice's outdoor line.

For Peter and the resourceful team at Oriole Landscaping, the challenge was finding ways to incorporate plant material without crowding what little space there was. Their solution was to hang window boxes on the outside of the balcony rather than bring planters right onto the patio itself and sacrifice precious floor space. Another brilliant idea was to install a trellis, which not only concealed the walls of the nearby buildings, but accommodated climbing morning glories, adding more texture and greenery. "It helped to create the illusion that you were sitting in a green space or garden," says Erin.

Since the makeover, the terrace has gone from a neglected, unwelcoming space to a thriving, peaceful sanctuary. "We try to create an environment here where people can connect with one another—when you share your stories, your burdens become lighter," says Jane. "Sitting on the new terrace, surrounded by such natural beauty, makes it all seem a little bit easier."

Top photo: Window boxes hung outside the balcony saved on space, and from their location beyond the overhang of the roof, plants have access to more light and rainfall. Window boxes, Southern Exposure; wood, morning glories, fall plants, all Oriole Landscaping; plants, Loblaws.


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