Balcony, Patio, and Courtyard Gardening
By Gwen Stewart
People choose balcony, patio, and courtyard gardening for many
different reasons. Some are moving from a large house to smaller
accommodation, some don’t want the hassle of a large property, and
some chose to live in rental property to avoid the high-cost of owning
a home. Whatever the reason, this doesn’t mean we can’t garden. No
space is too small for a small space garden. One plant in a container
is a garden. In fact, ever more gardening options are available in
terms of pots, half-barrels, window boxes, troughs, cast-iron
planters, recycled materials – the list is unending with
Planning a Small Space Garden
When planning your small space garden several steps are fundamental.
The first consideration is to determine what purpose this space will
serve. Do you want to grow vegetables, herbs, entertain family and
friends, meditate, create a place of peace, healing, a memorial garden
– the list is endless. Next, walk around your space and really look
at what you have. Where are doors, sheds, permanent planters located?
Is there any clutter? Clear out the clutter by asking yourself: ‘Do
I love it? Have I used it in the past year?’ If it no longer serves
you, turf it out, paint it or fix it, give it to somebody who needs
If possible, take a chair and sit down, move it around, and think
about where the energy feels best for you. Wherever that is, place
your seating such as a park bench, lounge, Muskoka chairs, dining
furniture, swing, etc. Do you want a formal or informal setting? What
features do you want? Features such as water, flowers, vegetables,
herbs, wind chimes, wild life, color, etc. add the finishing touches
to your small space garden. Finally, make a plan particularly if you
are going to use large features such as a half-barrel. Once filled
with soil you will not want to be moving it.
Creating a Small Space Garden
Containers: Generally speaking natural materials such as
wood, clay, stone, or cast iron in all their forms make better
companions for plants. Remember that wet soil weighs a lot so if you
garden on a balcony weight restrictions may apply. Containers made
from lighter weight materials such as fiberglass are ideal for roof or
balcony gardens. Styles of containers include hanging baskets,
wirework stands and baskets, wood window boxes, sinks, troughs,
galvanized buckets, old shoes or boots, bathtubs, old tires, and all
manner of recycled objects.
Scale is extremely important in small space gardening. For
example, small plants look more balanced in small containers, large
plants in large containers. I especially like the effect of vines
growing on trellis in half-barrels with smaller plants edging the
container. In the half-barrels I use, I have grown many different
vines but have found that the effect of scarlet runner pole beans (Phaseolus
vulgaris) is really a knockout with their gorgeous red flowers and you
can eat them too.
Microclimates: Which plants prefer which location? Choose
plants according to the conditions suitable for their optimum growth.
Plants such as begonia (Begonia x semperflorens), coleus (Coleus x
hybridous), and Fuchsia (Fuchsia x hybrida) prefer shaded areas while
geraniums (Pelargonium x hortorum), marigolds (Tagetes erecta), and
petunia (Petunia x hybrida) prefer full sun. Wind can be a major
factor and damage fragile plants. Choose plants that are wind tolerant
such as many of the grasses; the sound of the rustling of the grasses
as the wind blows through them is very pleasing to the ear.
Soil: I buy pre-mixed potting soil from the garden centers or
shopping malls. These are generally lighter in weight to carry,
sterilized to prevent weed seeds from germinating, and contain a lot
of peat moss that helps loosen the soil so that it doesn’t compact
in pots. I also buy organic soil that doesn’t have artificial
chemicals added as I dump my pots of used soil into the garden where I
Watering: Check daily as container plants often dry out more
quickly. This is especially true if you are using clay pots. Make
sure pots have drainage holes, as roots sitting in water will rot.
When there has been excessive rain or water, empty saucers that are
full. If you garden on a balcony sit plants on something to catch the
water so that it doesn’t run down on your neighbors.
Fertilizer: Due to frequent watering, container plants require fertilizer
on a more consistent basis then plants in the ground do. Use organic fertilizers
such as blood meal, bone meal, or fish emulsion, particularly if the
soil is going to be added to the garden at the end of the season, as
chemical fertilizers harm the wildlife.
Function: When you are creating your small space garden you are
actually designing an outdoor room. Keep in mind that this can be color
co-ordinated to appear as an extension of your home. I move my indoor
plants outside for the summer (which they love) and design these areas
as garden rooms.
Focal point: Create a focal point such as a large pot, tall
plant or tree, color, or a water feature. Perennial vines such as
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) will grow in a large
container and come back year after year. Create a sense of mystery by
hiding a plant or ornament behind something else to give the pleasure
of discovering it.
Color: In a small space, use three colors such as pinks, blues,
and whites; reds, oranges, and yellows; reds, whites, and blues; or
reds, whites, and purples that provide continuity rather than too many
colors which tend to be distracting. Cool colors make the space appear
bigger and brighter while intense colors shrink spaces. A white and
green color theme called a ‘moon garden’ is more formal and
particularly at night is spectacular. Many white flowers are fragrant
at night as well.
Lighting: I especially like the small Xmas lights hidden in
plants and interwoven throughout a trellis with climbing vines. Up
lighting with small spotlights can focus attention on a particular
area for evening entertaining.
Gwen Nyhus Stewart, B.S.W., M.G., H.T., is an educator, freelance
writer, garden consultant, and author of the book The Healing Garden:
A Place Of Peace – Gardening For The Soil, Gardening For The Soul.
She owns the website Gwen’s Healing Garden where you will find lots
of free information about gardening for the soil and gardening for the
soul. To find out more about the book and subscribe to her free
Newsletter visit http://www.gwenshealinggarden.ca
Gwen Nyhus Stewart © 2004 – 2005. All rights reserved.