Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Wednesday's Workbox - Planning A Balcony Garden For Autumn
We don't have a garden. In previous homes that we have had (of which there have been many) we have been blessed to have a garden and no matter how large or small, I have always really enjoyed making time to create a place of beauty and bounty, where we could enjoy being outside and hopefully have a few nice things to eat too. I really miss not having a garden currently. In winter it does have a plus though - not having to go out in wind, rain, ice or snow to keep it tidy! But in the summer we all miss being able to sit outside, enjoy picnics and barbecues, and feel the fresh air on our faces.
However, we do have a balcony. It isn't private - it is more of a walkway, as it is the only access route to all the flats on the second floor where our home is. This means that there isn't a whole lot of space to grow anything in containers. But I haven't let that stop me! This year we have mostly grown things indoors - the balcony isn't in sun for most of the day as it is North facing, and neither is it very sheltered, so things like herbs, tomatoes and most patio plants, don't do very well on our balcony. But at this time of year, there are some things, such as hardy evergreens and some bulbs, will grow with a little nurturing and attention.
Papa Bear has said that I may buy some balcony plants this month, to plant in pots for the winter and spring. I was so happy when he said this! As I have had balcony "gardens" before, I have a pretty good idea of the sort of plants I want to get! Here are a few hints that I've learned from previous years when I've had a balcony garden.
First of all, make sure you have the right sort of container. Plants grown in pots aren't able to get the same benefits from the environment as those that are grown in the ground. They can quickly become too dry, or get waterlogged. A container with a good drainage system is essential for them to grow successfully. Also make sure that it is large enough - both wide and deep - so that there is room for the plants to grow. I usually grow small nursery plants, rather than rearing them from seed. They seem to be hardier this way, and often don't seem to get enough sunlight in the early growing stages if I bring them on from seeds.
The material that you plant them in is also important. Bulbs will need a different sort of potting compost than plants such as minature conifers, ivies and other small shrubs and evergreens. If you are planting a mixture of different things all in one container, it is probably best to use a multipurpose compost and then regularly top dress it so that the larger plants don't take nutrients from the smaller ones and there is enough to go round. You will also need to feed them during the growing phase - but again, this isn't necessary for bulbs. Make sure the bottom of the container has some gravel or grit in it, to aid with drainage. You can also get granules that hold water which are especially designed for container growing. These are expensive, but do ensure that the plants get enough moisture. If you live in a cooler climate like we do, this may not be so necessary, but do remember that just because it is cold, it may not necessarily be damp.
Make sure that your new purchases are planted deeply enough in their containers. Bulbs especially need to be buried at least 3 times their own depth in soil. They should be placed in the most sheltered spot that you can find, and do keep an eye to make sure that their compost isn't too damp, or the bulbs will rot and not flower. Conifers will need some grit or sand on the top of the compost too, and I tend to plant these separately and mix a little sand into the compost all the way through, as they prefer this to a denser planting medium. Watch out that they don't get too dry as well though. I like cyclamen, but they do need to be protected from frost - so on really cold nights, I bring them indoors and put them right by the front door. Any further into the flat and they would become too warm, which would not be good for them.
During the winter months you should not need to prune plants, as most plants are dormant at this time and not growing. If you are only intending to keep them for the winter and spring period then pruning probably won't be necessary at all (most annual plants don't really do so well the next year, no matter how well you nurture them. I have tried this with fuscias, and although they will flower for a second - and even third - season, they never seem to do so well as they did the first year).
Of course, if you really don't have anywhere suitable to grow anything outside, you can always use a windowsill and grow some herbs like we have. We just bought supermarket ones and replanted them! They have served us pretty well throughout the summer months, and are only now, as the hours of daylight shorten and the temperature cools, starting to look a little bit tired. But they are still growing and green, and that's the most important bit about being a gardener - indoors or out!