When choosing shade-loving plants for a balcony garden, remember to look beyond flower color to elements like structure, form, texture, and foliage color. In small spaces, having a balance and variety of different forms and textures is particularly important, and in the shade, foliage color in a pot can make the difference between dull and delightful. Plants with strong evergreen structure can help a balcony garden feel as mature and settled as a garden growing in the ground.
Fern Podocarpus (Podocarpus gracilior) is a lacy, delicate-looking evergreen tree which is shockingly tough. It will tolerate wind, shade and deer, and its evergreen leaves and upright habit make it a great choice for privacy screening on a balcony. It has a fluffy texture to its foliage, which is a nice contrast to the leathery leaves of Camellias.
Fern Podocarpus thrives in USDA Zones 9 to 11. In the ground it will grow to 50 feet tall, but in a container it can easily be kept trimmed or espaliered to a dwarf size. It needs regular watering to do its best.
Apple Blossom Camellia
Apple Blossom Camellia (Camellia sasanqua 'Apple Blossom') is a sturdy, upright shrub that thrives in shady containers and makes an excellent screening plant for balcony gardens with an unpleasant view. Its evergreen foliage is accented in fall and winter with white flowers that have a delicate pink blush and a light fragrance.
Apple Blossom Camellia can grow to 8 to 10 feet tall in the ground, but in a pot grows more slowly. It can be kept in a container indefinitely through pruning and root pruning (trimming roots every two years). It thrives in USDA Zones 7 to 10.
Golden Hakone Grass
Golden Hakone Grass (Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola') won the honor of being 2009's Perennial Plant Association's Plant of the Year. It is easy to grow and is adaptable to a number of garden conditions, including container planting. In a pot, this vividly striped golden grass spills over the sides and softens the edges of a container.
Golden Hakone Grass does well in USDA Zones 5 to 9, prefers part shade or full shade and regular water, and needs little care beyond a spot of winter pruning to cut back the dead foliage.
Hardy Fuchsia (Fuchsia 'Genii') has gorgeous drooping reddish-pink flowers with purple centers that are very attractive to hummingbirds. In a container, it both provides a strong upright structure, and also drapes over the sides of a pot. It has golden foliage which shines brightly in a shady balcony and can grow to 4 feet tall.
Hardy Fuchsia grows well in USDA Zones 7 to 9, prefers part to full shade and regular water.