Spring has finally arrived and we all lurk for some green and some nature around us. Nothing better than get back from the chaotic world, locked it outside and rest your eyes on a lay of brilliant green with colorful spots, do not you think so? Yet gardening these days is not that easy: green thumbs or not, growing plants in container of any sort makes everything more difficult, but not impossible. Here is some suggestion before starting your “own little paradise”:
1. Dimension: each plant needs its own appropriate space and no plant is equal to another
As we do, plants hate being in crowded places and have no space. They will get weak and die in such a condition. Make sure each plant has
• its proper space depending on what you are growing: eggplants need definitely more space than salad leaves.
• its appropriate container: small and low pots may be charming but they are plant killer.
2. Weather condition: one balcony many worlds
Each balcony has a different microclimate so your neighbor’s geranium may be glorious and yours…a complete mess. Even worst, each balcony is a mix of different microclimates: the right corner is a shaded area and the left one is windy and the central rectangle is exposed to direct sun during the warmest hours of the day. What a dilemma!
Do not be discouraged and stop thinking you will never get the cascade of marvelous deep red geranium of your neighbor. You will shadow the geranium with a cascade of light purple and perfumed wisteria. Or with a cover of candid Lily-of-the-Valley. There are plants for every condition and for every taste: just make sure you combine one with the other before starting your “green adventure”. If roses, geranium, Russian ivy, hibiscus, oleander, myrtle and daisies are “sun lovers”, some plants such as begonia, Jacob’s Ladder and verbena tolerate mid shadow better. Your roof hangovers protect your balcony and your flowers from sun? No problem: the romantic “Forget-me-not”, the delicate “Lily-of-the- Valley” and the happy primroses will thrive in shade and light up your heart!
3. Insects and diseases? Heat your soil at 80°C
Not joking. If you wish to start clean and reduce the risks of insects and diseases, water your soil slightly and then heat it at 80°C for approx. 30 min. Leave it to cool before planting.
4. Nurture: nature needs to be nurtured as we all need
We tend to forget about it. Make sure you are offering your plants the right compost for containers: it must have extra nutrients and it must hold water and drain it properly.
• Liquid fertilizer every fortnight is ok
• Water retaining granules are ok
Water is no doubt THE ISSUE when gardening: plants need water but they do not need overwater.
A simple trick? Poke a finger in the compost and test if the lay below the surface is lightly wet: if it is, your watering is perfect.
5. Rules: better to know before you fall in love and it breaks your heart
Each building may have a different policy as far as balconies and terraces maintenance is concerned. Make sure you know what policy your building has adopted. Do you really want your delicate jasmine extirpated by some brutes? Believe it or not, once you have grown your own plants, they will be like your kids and you will be ready to declare war for them.
6. Potted plants need nitrogen and calcium, did you know?
Some granny tips and tricks: let some rotten tomato leaves and/or nettle leaves in infusion with some water for a couple of days. Use it to water your plants every ten days. A great supply of nitrogen. Calcium? Add some water where you boiled some eggs to your daily water dose. Do not water warm water to your plants. Mild temperature is OK.
7. Time for garden decluttering, oh yes!
I know you think now “decluttering” is just the new hype. Actually it is an old art our grandmothers mastered perfectly: you first clean and make your place comfortable and then you add new pieces of furniture or new accessories. The same goes with garden where you always need a clean environment: remove dried off leaves and flowers and let the new born energy of the green flows freely.
8. Do it to your taste
When creating a balcony garden, you usually start with the most conventional flowers: the ones your neighbors, friends and beloved sister suggested and gave you. The result is a mess of shapes and colors you do not like and do not care much about. Something you cannot entirely love or commit to seriously. Just a hip of green and some colors which tend to outgrow or commit suicide for lack of care. After making up your minds of what colors and what flowers and plants you really like (you may even flip through garden magazines, cut images and draw your own flower board at first ), go for point 1, 2 and 5 and finally “create your own wish garden”. Do not overdo: just start with a light commitment and grow around it accordingly. Remember, dark green at the back and colors in front line go usually well but do not be afraid to make experiments.
And now, roll your sleeves up and put yourself to work. I am sure you will agree with Frances Hodgson Burnett when she wrote “However many years she lived, Mary always felt that ‘she should never forget that first morning when her garden began to grow’.” (The Secret Garden)
Cover image: Flowers, photo by Moyan Brenn, via flickr