Any gardener will agree that it’s a never ending learning curve. If you work in horticulture or enjoy it as a hobby, there really isn’t a day that goes by without learning something new. I have, for many years, talked and written about how to grow in small spaces, including patios, porches and balconies and I have gardened myself personally on all three of those, plus large gardens, overseas spaces and many more. One of the many reasons why gardening is a life long learning curve is that no garden or space is the same. Something I learnt very quickly as I now garden on a balcony part of the year in North Carolina.
The Carolinas are known for fabulous sunsets and as the sky turns numerous shades of orange, red, yellow, pink, blue and purple we decided a top floor apartment with a balcony overlooking the mountains would be the ideal way to relax at the end of the day.
The balcony gets plenty of sunshine so I soon filled it up with pots and trugs to grow some simple yet productive crops (as I am not there half of the year, my husband has to care of them, so I’m going a little more easy than I would usually). I positioned them perfectly, planned my sowing and planted up my first herbs, salads and a few pretty plants.
Then, as we returned home one evening we noticed from afar something was missing. It had been really windy and half of my plants had basically blown away, including a whole load of soil and a Vegepod cover. New lesson that day: high up balconies will be more windy!
With each space you grow in, there will be varying conditions and aspects to consider. Smaller gardens in urban environments can often be more shady due to surrounding buildings but don’t think you can’t find a sun trap. I had a patio garden in the middle of the city where the sun hit it hard and my Banana plants stayed happily outside, sheltered all year around.
There are a few things that no matter where you garden, if it’s mainly in containers, you will need to follow some general rules.
1. Think about the containers you use as this can help with your watering and plant care. Terracotta pots look great, but can be heavier, liable to crack and they absorb moisture, so you will be watering a lot. There are many plastic pots available which are lighter but recycled and recyclable would be best. They are lighter and easier to manage but black pots absorb a lot of heat. Then there is fibreglass, wood and cast iron. The latter generally being my favourite.
2. Consider your watering options. All of your pots will need good drainage, so make sure there are holes in the bottom and even stones or packaging chips in the bottom of the pot before soil and plants. In the winter you might need to place them up on bricks or pot feet. Container grown plants will dry out much quicker than in a garden border and if you are on an upper floor balcony, your neighbours below might not be too happy if your watering drips down below!
3. Be prepared for pests and diseases because if they are in one pot, it's very easy for them to transfer to another. Red Lily Beetle for example or the garden nemesis, Vine Weevil can ravish pots. Just be vigilant and check every day if you can.
4. Choose the right varieties of plants to make sure they grow happily, healthily and last a long time. There are now so many of our favourite garden plants that can be grown in pots so don’t feel restricted to just bulbs and annuals. Many small trees, shrubs and perennials can be grown. One of my favourites for pollinators is Verbena ‘Lollipop’, it’s even more exciting to spot a butterfly enjoying your plants on a high up balcony or in a tiny garden in the city.
5. Think vertical because you might be able to more than double your growing space! Think climbers, fragrance, screening and grow plants that attract wildlife that might prefer something higher up.
Don’t feel restricted by your space as there are so many options and you can be really creative with what you have. Some of the nicest havens I have seen are smaller space gardens.
To read more about Ellen Mary, you can find her on social media and on her website - https://www.ellenmarygardening.co.uk/