Published on July 8, 2019

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Photo by p drummond

As the stars of Bravo’s Backyard Envy and the creative directors of Manscapers, Garrett Magee, James DeSantis, and Melissa Brasier have spent their fair share of time crafting some of the most imaginative garden spaces, both indoors and out. In fact, they specialize in making the most of small spaces (although their most recent project was a 12-ton floating meadow in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse, created in collaboration with St-Germain). 

The Manscapers have extensive experience transforming even the tiniest apartments in their native Brooklyn and Manhattan into stunning green spaces, whether they’re working with a small balcony or a bookshelf. In other words, if you think you didn’t have room for that rubber tree in your studio apartment, you might be wrong. Here, the experts share their top tips for creating the garden you’ve always dreamed of—even if you don’t have a backyard.

Go Vertical

“In a city, we understand that many of us lack square footage,” says Brasier. “Sometimes having plants potted on the floor isn’t an option.” The easiest solution? Go vertical. “Use your bookshelf to set a pot on or hang stuff from high up on the ceiling. Think about all the vertical spaces that can be used.”

Use Your Unconventional Spaces

Don’t neglect any of the rooms in your apartment or house—add a bit of greenery to all of them. “We love to have plants in the kitchen so that it feels warmer,” explains Brasier. “[Put a plant on] the kitchen shelf—something that drapes down and creates a romantic vibe in the space.”

Follow the Law of Three

“One very easy tip for indoor or outdoor spaces is to work in clusters of three,” says DeSantis. “Group together one tall plant, one medium, and one small. It really creates a nice vignette.” Repeating this concept throughout any space will add more dimension to the room.

Layer as Many Diverse Plants as Possible

“If you do have a small balcony, fill it up to be as lush and layered as possible,” DeSantis says. “First, determine how you want to use the space and if you want to put any furniture there.” The Manscapers recommend filling up whatever space is left over with as many plants that will fit. Second, make sure to diversify the color, type of plants, and texture to get the best effect. They also suggest taking your city balcony garden to the next level by introducing an aromatic effect with herbs, especially fragrant options such as rosemary and thyme.

Consider Hearty Trees

If you’re working with a very small, minimal space, the Manscapers recommend opting for big trees. “By adding a plant like a Dracaena marginata tree to a room, you can create a dramatic effect. They’re very hearty trees that do well in city apartments,” DeSantis says. “If you have a small apartment, it sometimes looks better if you have one large statement plant.”

Be Realistic About Maintenance

Humidifiers are essential for dry spaces, as is keeping all plants away from any radiators. Also, be careful about your watering. “Make sure your pots are draining and your plants are never sitting in pools of water. That’s the number-one way that a plant can die from root rot,” Brasier says. “Second, if you’re going to have an outdoor space with plants, just be aware that you do need to water at least three times a week.” 

Try a Failproof Technique

For window boxes, the Manscapers like to use a technique called thriller, filler, spiller—but the thought behind it can be applied to any indoor or outdoor garden area. “Choose one main plant that’s very full as your focal point. That’s the thriller. The filler is something just slightly shorter in height. Last, the spiller is something that drapes over the side of the box,” says Brasier. “Within those height variations, we play around with colors. It can be a palette of greens, with both dark greens and bright greens.” This technique can easily be applied to plants arranged on a bookshelf, with potted planters and indoor vines. 

See more plant tips:
Expert Tips and Tricks on the Trendiest Trailing Plants
I’m Determined to Grow a Citrus Tree in My Tiny Apartment—Can It Be Done?
These 9 Plants Can Reduce Stress and Increase Productivity (Yes, Really)

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