Top tips for a blooming balcony garden

Ahead of BBC Gardeners’ World Live this June, we spoke to Chris Collins from Garden Organic, who is helping to bring Garden Organic’s Small Space – Big Ideas Garden to the Show. The garden will show how a productive and biodiverse organic oasis is accessible to all growers, regardless of the size of their growing area.

Read below to hear from Chris about all the wonderful things you could be growing at home, no matter the size of your garden.

Written by Chris Collins

I think people sometimes feel that gardening is the past time of a certain section of society, those with of ownership of  large spaces , more economic freedoms and of course the all important ingredient of  all, time. Changes in many peoples personal living spaces & generation rent it could be argued, also may inhibit peoples urge to grow and nurture plants. It is though quite simply not true. A pot, hanging basket,  window-sill, balcony or roof terrace no matter how small can allow you to green up  your environment, grow your own food or just simply bring colour into your life.

To start out, always think of any outdoor space as a cube as opposed to being flat. For instance a 2 meter square garden massively increases in size if thought of a cubed space. Adding trellis, hanging baskets, wall baskets, why not a metal archway or obelisks? Containers of varying heights and sizes will all help fill out what looks like a small unkept space into a magnificent garden.

Balcony Garden

It therefore follows that you get all your structural elements in place, take time to choose the pots and features you want. Look at upcycling, what can you recycle. If you are lucky enough to have a balcony, it is a good idea to take a piece of paper and a pen and just sketch out what you have in mind . It never hurts to plan out your garden no matter how small.

To be a successful container gardener, rule one is to make sure you have decent soil . None of this three bags for a tenner from the DIY store, this type of compost is good for mulching, but you want your plant roots to be in a decent  potting compost. Spending a few pennies on compost will pay dividends in the long run. Perennial planting in containers can be top dressed with compost each year and seasonal containers and baskets can have their soil replaced by a third each season.

If you have space, try composting with a wormery. They will need a steady temperature range of 15 to 25 degrees, so take care of where its sited. They will produce a decent top dress for your pots and the worm tea from run off as a foliar feed.

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So now the exciting part, what do you want to grow? I make the most of small spaces by mixing plant types together. I have structural containers that are perennial and create the outline of the balcony. Old English Roses make great balcony plants and I train these on the walls and underplant with Lavender. Woody herbs such as Rosemary , Thyme & Oregano also make a good perennial pot and also contribute to the  kitchen. Finally a decent climbing plant, planted on railings, will not only look good but also has a hedging effect by slowing down wind speed as it matures. For this a winter Jasmine is excellent.

To get the most out of a small space nothing quite gives you your maximum results than seasonal planting. In mid-May I fill my balcony with all the old summer bedding stalwarts. From the Petunia to the Pelargonium blended with trailing Lobelia & Impatiens, these plants will cover themselves in flower from June all the way through to autumns first frost. They are the plants that just keep on giving. Once they come to pass, its time to fill the containers and baskets with bulbs. A mixture of Snowdrops, Crocus, Narcissus, Tulips and Allium will produce months of colour from February until May, bringing your seasonal planting full cycle.

In among this all this colour a small space filled with containers can produce a steady supply of fresh organic food just meters from your kitchen table. Quick crops that can be grazed are particularly successful.  Grow these in close lines (drills) in a large trough and try to get one that has a reservoir built into its base. This means the soil will draw up water by capillary action and lessen the chances of the plants  drying out. Sow quick crops like cut and come again salad leaves, lettuce, rocket or perpetual spinach. Sow them densely so they produce lots of small juicy leaves that can be picked at will and added straight to a salad. It’s also good practice to sow new crops in between your previously sown drill as these can take over  as the older plants expire. Site your trough in a sunny spot where possible.  Tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and chillies make great veg to grow in containers as they can be mixed with leafy herbs and seasonal bedding or pollinator plants to make ‘pottage’ containers. Plant out in mid to late May and by late July you can begin picking.

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To have healthy successful balcony garden is not so difficult but there are a few important rules to follow. It may seem obvious but rule one and most fundamental is attention to watering , the simple art of irrigation is the catalyst to all the other gardening tasks. Do it early in the morning before heading off to work, always water your containers one by one, water deep and give them a decent drink right to the base of the plants. Whilst doing this check how your plants are doing.  Do they need picking over? Dead heading? Have they got any unwanted visitors that need picking off? Do they need any physical support? Watering and all the other considerations that come with it is the job that gives you skin in the game. You’ll see your plants grow and your garden flourish and the fine art of horticulture will become part you.

Our last considerations for our container  plants is making sure they get their nutrients. Container soil will leach nutrients as they will wash through over time, so the gardener needs to supplement them. Organic comfrey pellets are a good balanced fertiliser and can be added to the pots in spring and then again in mid -summer along with a thin dressing of compost or organic matter. A regular foliar feed of diluted seaweed extract sprayed on to the leaves little and often will keep your plants healthy and strong. Do this early in the morning on a still day. A great advantage to balcony gardens is pest and disease is usually minimal. Encourage hoverflies and small birds to control the caterpillars and aphids and pick over any mouldy looking or unwell looking leaves. With this mixture of planting from herbs, edibles and flowers, a good balanced organic garden will be created.

Gardening is not about size. Its just about getting your hands in the soil and  connecting with nature so have a look at any space you have and help green our cities.

Don’t miss Garden Organic’s Small Space – Big Ideas Show Garden at BBC Gardeners’ World Live. Click here to find out more about the garden.