Downtown: Gardener keeps small spaces green

If you live downtown, you likely face one fact — limited exterior space.

But a small balcony or patio doesnt mean you should sacrifice on greenery, says master gardener Mark Hiltz, who co-owns Coal Harbour Green Design with husband Tim Hiltz.

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The business, which is on the seawall facing Coal Harbour marina near Harbour Green Park, opened over a year ago and caters to urban dwellers whose outdoor areas range from a Juliet balcony thats not usually more than one-foot deep to a large terrace of more than 2,500 square feet.

It's a growing market as an increasing number of people choose to live in apartments, condos or townhouses downtown rather than in larger properties in residential neighbourhoods with spacious yards.

Tim Hiltz, a realtor and self-described greenspace enthusiast, said downtown exterior spaces are often not as landscaped as they could be. "Their potential isn't realized. We want to mentor people or coach people on the ways they can improve their exterior space in a green way," he said.

Mark Hiltz agreed, pointing out some customers feel they can only fit one pot.

"They say, 'I've got this little space, what can I fit in there?' We get talking about it and I say, 'Well you can go up [vertical gardening], you can stack things, use trellising and get plants on top of plants on top of plants.'

"There are a lot of options that people dont realize are possible for them," he said.

Hiltz has brought in European products, which feature light-weight, self-watering plant containers that are recyclable.

The planters are appropriate in highrises, which have weight restrictions for balconies and use water reservoirs to prevent water from dripping on balconies below and which allow plants to sustain themselves for periods of time.

"So you have that on your balcony planted up with annuals and you can leave it for two or three weeks in the heat of summer and not worry about them," explained Mark Hiltz. "They're a brilliant solution for those people who don't want to have to worry about watering their box out on the terrace in the summertime every day. You water it once every two weeks and youre good to go."

Another popular item the business carries is from a Vancouver-based company called Wallflower. Wallflower has designed a vertical wall planter described as a living frame, which can be hung on an interior wall. Plants are grown within the frames, which range in size and colour, and a water reservoir means water only needs to be added two or three times a month.

Coal Harbour Green Design is itself in a relatively small space of just over 600 square feet and tries, within that space, to show whats possible through vertical gardening and easy-to-care-for plants.

Hiltz noted customers requirements can range from one or two containers to comprehensive terrace maintenance.

"Some customers take the do-it-your-self approach, whereas others request full service that involves assisting with choice of suitable planters and plants, as well as their installation and planting. In addition to our retail business, there are approximately two dozen balcony and terrace gardens I attend to semi-regularly, and that number is growing," he said.

"I have also consulted on a number of interior plant programs for customers who don't have any outdoor area. In these cases I help customers choose appropriate interior planters and plants to complement their decor."

Tim Hiltz points to a development in Italy called Bosco Verticale, or vertical forest. The towers in the project will feature trees, shrubs and floral plants growing on the exterior balconies all the way up the buildings. He maintains it represents what could be in Vancouver.

"Our vision is to see all the towers of Vancouver dripping with greenery," he said.

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