8 Things I've Learnt About Balcony Gardening
Now, if I had a Euro for every time I heard that nursery rhyme recited to me, I could have retired 10 years ago 😂. But as it happens, one of my Covid-19 lockdown projects has been exactly that…getting my garden to grow. Actually… my livingroom Balcony and bedroom Terrace to be more precise…seeing as I live in a 6th floor city centre apartment in the middle of Dublin. While in lockdown, private outside space is more valuable than ever; we’ve all learnt and I've found that gardening is really good for the soul.
Now, I’ll start off by confessing that I’m no gardening expert. Indeed, for years my outdoor space has been known as “Death Row”, testament to the extreme climatic environment and my extreme lack of care 😂. In my defence, I'd like to explain that both spaces face South/ South West with the Terrace also open to the East/ South East…..so both are exposed to cold winds whipping around the high gable end from the East while scorching sun from the South (when we’re lucky to get it in Ireland 🌞) and driving rain from the South-West ☔... makes it a rough ride for the toughest of plants. Definitely no wimps need apply! That hasn’t stopped me from trying my hand and experimenting with different plants and flowers each year. It also doesn’t stop Charlie calling out “Dead Plants Walking” (referring to the Green Mile 1999 movie) as I wheel my plant victims/ choices to the check-out desk at the garden centre!
So in my blog this week, I cover what I’ve done this year and you can see how I got on. Although I designed it, researched it and sourced the plants and bits and bobs, I want to give a shout out to Charlie for the hard graft with the construction and installation of everything (e.g. grass, hedge, shed, storage seats/ boxes, painting, wall lights etc)…and to Eoin for the heavy lifting. Enjoy!
How I went about making the most of my Balcony and Terrace space during lockdown….... with 8 things I’ve learnt to date!
1. Aspect The first thing to work out is whether your balcony is sunny or shaded. If your balcony is facing south in Ireland then it will be sunny, allowing you to grow a wider range of flowers and vegetables. If your balcony is north or west facing, it will be shady, colder and more limited in what you can grow. The amount of sunlight is the most critical question.
2. Plants: First and foremost, when growing on a balcony or roof terrace, you need to choose the right plants. Dreams of 10m-tall palm trees have to be set aside, but there are plenty of plants that will flourish in pots on a balcony. In general, I have found over the years that summer bedding plants, like begonias, petunias, osteospermum and busy Lizzies are all great container plants and will brighten up a balcony from late spring right through summer and into autumn. And in general, plants that have the following qualities work well high up on my Balcony and Terrace:
So I'm looking for quite a lot out of a small space but this is what I currently have growing:
So here are some close ups of the plants and flowers at the minute:
3. Containers Choose a pot that is lightweight but frost hardy. I wanted ones light enough to move around even when full with my reduced strength post-stroke …but not too light that they will blow over in the wind; I’m lucky that I don’t get a lot of frost being only 2 miles upriver from the Irish Sea. There are now a huge range of extremely durable plastic containers available in many colours. Plastic might not seem at the outset to be Eco-friendly but if you buy good quality ones made from re-cycled material they will last you years saving resources over time.
Troughs are generally the best options are they are long & narrow so will take up less space but offer the most growing space. If you wish to grow a large plant such as bamboo, acers or small trees you will require pots that are at least 80 Litres.
CLICK ORANGE LINKS BELOW TO GET FURTHER INFORMATION
For my Balcony:
4. Surface Cover: Usually with a balcony or rooftop you have to be careful that it can take the added weight of pots full of soil. My Balcony and Terrace are not overhanging and have concrete slab floors so this wasn’t a huge concern for me. When I moved in both already had concrete paving slabs. Whilst they worked well, I decided to add a bit of colour by adding artificial grass.
For my Balcony: I wanted a grass that looked realistic and after doing some research and seeing samples decided to go with 40 mm Boyne Grass from artificialgrass.ie. Charlie and Eoin laid it on the Balcony last summer (2020) for me on a scorching hot day (thanks again, lads). We said we would see how it would fare as I was a bit concerned about drainage. The balcony is roughly 4 feet by 17 feet. They used artificial grass glue to stick it to the existing concrete paving slabs the edges, once I had given it a good sweep. As the original slabs were well laid and very even there was no need for underlay. I’m happy to say that it worked really well and came through last winter with no problems.
For my Terrace: They therefore did the same for me in 2021 on the Terrace which is roughly 10 feet by 9 feet using the same grass. It came in a huge 4 metre roll as I didn’t want any joining (i.e. trip hazard). The janitor here, Brendan, enlisted the help of a friendly contractor (who was onsite working on another apartment) to cut it to size for me down in the carpark and then bring it up folded in the elevator. Charlie and Eoin then trimmed it and rolled it into place, again trimming it and sticking it around the edges to the existing slabs with no underlay, and we put ornamental stones around the edges. I’m delighted with it….it’s soft under foot, it’s a lovely realistic colour and looks quite lush.
It’s also lovely to look out on a bit of colour and texture instead of the grey concrete slabs. If there is one minor downside it is that I gather a lot of static if walking back and forth across it when it’s very dry; resulting in mini shocks when opening my sliding doors/bug screens….but it’s a small price to pay 😎.
5. Atmosphere & Practical Use:
CLICK ORANGE LINKS BELOW TO GET FURTHER INFORMATION ON EACH ITEM
When you’re living in an apartment being able to use available outdoor space as a multi-purpose space at different times of the day is super-important. I therefore wanted to balance the practical with the atmospheric. So to get the practical stuff out of the way first, I needed:
6. Herbs & Vegetables: Although I don’t grow herbs, salad leaves or vegetables on my own Balcony and Terrace (partly because I’m not a big veggie eater and also because I prefer to see flowers), I know that several of my neighbours do indeed grow veggies and herbs on their balconies. Herbs such as parsley, rosemary, mint, thyme and chives grow well in shade and are perfect in pots. Lettuce, radish and beetroot can be grown and harvested all year round if grown under cover in winter. For sunny spots, cherry tomatoes can be grown from hanging baskets. The good news is that you can grow most vegetables on a balcony.
The ones to avoid, according to my neighbours, are those that just take up too much space. For that reason it is best to avoid Courgettes and Potatoes (unless you are happy to grow a small quantity in grow bags). Cabbage, Brussels sprouts and Broccoli are also not ideal for balconies. That leaves pretty much everything else. If you wish to grow root crops like carrots and parsnips, ensure your beds or containers are at least 50cm in height. If you wish to grow cucumbers, chilies or tomatoes ensure to give them the sunniest spot and to provide support and somewhere to climb by late summer.
7. Shelter & Privacy: As I alluded to earlier, gardening 6 floors up means gardening in extreme conditions. The higher up you are, the more wind you are likely to have, and hot drying winds can quickly parch your plants. Last year I decided to go for Artificial Hedging Trellis from Outdoor Living which came already fixed to a bamboo trellis panels. Charlie very kindly installed it for me by stretching it out to fit the space and cable-tied it to the existing railings - leaving space on top on the Balcony for me to wrap my Christmas Lights. It has worked out really well. It came through the winter rain and snow unscathed on both the Balcony and the Terrace.
This hedging has been a revelation as it works double-duty in blocking prevailing winds while also adding a touch of privacy. I can still peak through the hedge to have a gawk at the neighbours while sitting down and if I want to see the Dublin Mountains or surrounding inner dock water all I have to do is stand up.
The hedging has also reduced the glare of the sun indoors as you can see in the photos. My sliding doors are by Centor and I got them installed by Nordan in 2018. They come with sliding bug screens built into the frame on one side and sliding vertical blinds/blackout screens on the other side. When pulled over even partially the latter helps shield from the sun ….whilst the bug screen means I never have to have a fly swatter. My late dad, Mickey, would have been “done out of a job”!! 😂
I’m lucky in that there is very little traffic noise to be heard in my complex. Connolly Station blocks any noise from the main thoroughfare on Amiens Street and a row of office buildings and the CHQ building separates us from the North Quays of the River Liffey. I can see and hear the ding-ding of the Luas (electric tram) but I quite like that and it reminds me of the cable car bells in San Francisco; another of my favourite cities.
I have placed a 6ft outdoor artificial blossom tree in one of the grey metal pots on the edge of the Terrace. I bought it online on Amazon. It is an extremely windy spot and I have yet to find a living thing that can survive there. The artificial blossom tree is slender enough to allow wind blow through and flexible enough to bend without breaking. When lit at night it is also tall enough to give extra privacy to my bedroom. I have it plugged into a smart plug in an outdoor extension box and can control it with Amazon Alexa.
8. Watering & Maintenance: Watering is key to balcony garden success I believe. Since wind is drying, you really have to stay on top of watering. Maintenance is also important in any small garden. When plants are in containers instead of the earth, they need to be watered more often. Fertilising once a week (I use Goulding Plant Food Concentrate and Miracle Gro), deadheading every day, and pinching back leggy plants help to keep them in bounds and encourage bushiness.
For my Balcony, as I said under Containers above, I have invested in troughs (Elho Corsica Easy Balcony 60) and tall pots (Elho Loft Urban Square) with built-in reservoirs in Vintage Blue. This has made a big difference I have found as it’s not a disaster if I miss a day of watering …like in previous years.
For my Terrace, I’m currently watering manually with my trusty green watering can – mostly in the early morning (if I’m out of bed) or in the relative cool of the evening. It’s a bit of exercise for me and I find it therapeutic! For next year though I’m considering investing in an outdoor tap and perhaps an automated irrigation system that I can control remotely with Amazon Alexa if and when I return to travelling. I’m conscious that I have many neighbours living under me so it needs to be fail safe!
So there you have it. I hope you have found this useful. Any tips you have to pass on to me will also be gratefully received. Hopefully, I can keep everything looking like the Garden of Eden instead of Death Valley. Either way, I’m enjoying it. And not a “cockle shell” or “silver bell” in sight. I might even morph from “Mary, Mary, quite contrary” to being one of the “pretty maids all in a row” seeing as I'm feeling so zen!! Now where's my watering can???? 😎
Bucket List Items Ticked Off in the above Blog 57
Number 23 - Creative - Design/ Redecorate a Garden
Number 54 - Skills - Grow & Care for Plants
Other Blog Posts
Blog 11 - Sydney, Australia
Blog 12 - Hong Kong, China
Blog 17 - Beijing, Xi'an & Shanghai, China
Blog 19 - California, USA
Blog 27 - Scotland
Blog 28 - Barbados
Blog 29 - Canada
Blog 30 - Alaska
Blog 31 - Everglades, Florida
Do you like gardening? Tell me about your experience in the comments section below.
If you liked this post, please share. Sharing is caring 😊
My name is Mary and this is my bucket list blog ...having survived a near-death experience. I hope it encourages you to "live your best life". See how I'm completing my own bucket list items. And let me know how you're getting on with yours!