I love our balcony, and do you want to know why? It doesn’t require a lawnmower, weeds don’t grow, flowers don’t need watering and the garden furniture doesn’t need cleaning because the only objects on our balcony are two empty cardboard boxes, a faded lantern and a jam jar for visiting smokers.
Call us minimalist or cheap but ever since we moved from the third floor to our present ground floor flat we just have not treated the balcony in the same way. From my old high viewpoint I used to spy on our neighbours’ activities while enjoying my morning cup of coffee, but now we are at street level our neighbours spy on us.
Losing that protection of altitude has changed the way I enjoy it; firstly it means that a dressing gown is required and secondly it is more apparent how barren our balcony is. Our neighbours have invested heavily in their balconies, they have plant boxes, fibreglass ornaments, bamboo furniture, elegant curtains and someone even has a miniature pond.
The phenomenon of apartments having their own balcony was a pleasant surprise when I first moved to Finland. In England it seems that only expensive apartments overlooking the sea, a river or some other beautiful vista are blessed with a balcony, but almost everybody has access to one here.
It is generous of architects to add this feature to apartment blocks and provide every family with a personal space but why do they do it? Is it a legal necessity, is it just to allow smokers somewhere to light up, or is it to avoid meeting your neighbours in the community courtyard?
Finns do have gardens, although from the few I have had the pleasure to visit they lack the same loving touch that the English lavish upon their gardens. For example, in my parents garden they have <deep breath> a rockery with a waterfall falling into a pond filled with fish, a patio area, a nature corner dedicated to their love of birds, a bench covered by a wooden arch, a barbeque, lots of potted plants, a miniature fountain, little flowerbeds and a couple of jolly gnomes.
It is a common sight every Sunday and Bank Holiday for couples to drag plants around garden centre megastores pushing a trolley loaded with their bored children – that is correct. Garden centres are a multi-million pound industry and the recent influx of television garden makeover shows has only increased the trend.
Garden centres can also be the unwitting supplier of illegal products. My parents wanted some wild flowers for their bird corner, so they purchased some wild flower seeds from their local garden centre. After a little bit of water, sunshine and time they became big and healthy, except that one looked suspiciously like a cannabis plant. Now you know why the English love their gardens.
Well, from my window it appears that the Finnish summer has finally arrived, so it is time to make myself a cup of coffee, sit on my balcony and secretly watch the actions of my fellow neighbours. Shhhhh!
Written in August 2004