The concrete chronicles, part I: Conundrum

The conundrum: how to beautify a concrete slab patio?

With spring less than a month away, I recently looked out my window, and eagerly searched for any signs of the upcoming change in season. But alas! My eyes fell instead upon my balcony, in all of its sorry state: three brown plants in pots, the rest of the plants most likely dead.

Upon this viewing, I came across a common conundrum: Many of us have a sad spot in our yards that can't be fixed with a handful of grass seed flung during a commercial break. Either the grass just won't grow, or it can't be planted at all. My issue is the latter, for my balcony is one large concrete slab. So this year, I decided to do something about it, and create an urban garden.

Full disclosure: I have no formal training or experience in gardening. I am starting from scratch. So for anyone who has a desire to tackle a spot in their yard and make it beautiful, I invite them to join me on my journey, as I chronicle my triumphs and tragedies, and as we learn together.

The first thing I did, after my initial resolution to create a garden on the balcony, was to find a place to start. Every book, magazine or website I've ever read, when giving advice on what to do first when beginning any interior or exterior design, is to figure out what you like. Sounds easy enough.

So what do you like? Most people – myself included – draw a complete blank when asked that question, much like the dreaded "Tell me about yourself." I know what I like when I see it; I've seen what I like before. And odds are, I bought it and brought it home with me.

So look around. What does your home look like? No, not all the clutter, what's it built on? What colors do you favor? Is there a certain style you're drawn to? If you had to pick out a favorite piece (a painting, a vase, a throw pillow, etc.), what drew you to it? The color? Pattern? If your house seems to be a mishmash of everything, don't panic. Go to your closet. What's in it? Jeans? Polo's? Sun dresses? Bold patterns? Bright colors? Pastels? Floral? If you enjoy wearing it you'll enjoy living in it, indoors and out.

Once you've identified what you like, write it down as simply as possible. For example, my living room consists of a neutral base: white walls, beige sofa and cream carpet; with bright colors added through the use of rugs, accent pillows, art, curtains and knickknacks. My closet contains solid cardigans paired with patterned shirts and jeans in winter and floral sundresses in summer. Next, think of a title for what you like, making things easier to look for and to categorize what you find. I call mine "Relaxed Elegance / Eclectic Bohemian." A simple four-word name conveys so much, and is a great aid.

Last but not least, you will know it when you see it. So look for it! Go to the library. Get books on gardens, yes, but look through travel books as well. Have a soft spot for Tuscany? Look at the terracotta pots, the tiles, the colors. How about Paris? Red roses and black bistro tables are all available. Or the soothing gardens of Japan, with bonsais and lines raked in sand.

Don't know what book to choose? Take a sampling. You don't have to read them all, just look at the pictures. Browse the internet. Type in an idea of what you want into a search engine, and then click on "Images." Look at the pictures, click on what you like, and then go to the website it came from. All from the comfort of your own home, no need to venture out into the cold.

There is something out there to everyone's taste. You will find yours, too. All that's needed is a little information digging, do it now and you'll be digging in the dirt in no time.

Rachel Polaniec

I live in Westlake with my husband and our two sons. I work part time at Kohl's, and full-time at home. In my free time I like to read, write, and cook. My family and I take part in War of 1812 reenactments throughout the summer. My lofty dreams are of traveling abroad, visiting the great museums, and drinking all the coffee. For now I content myself with antiquing and Keurig sampler packs.

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Volume 5, Issue 5, Posted 9:48 AM, 03.05.2013