When I downsized to a condo last year, I gained an L-shaped balcony with exposures east and south. The balcony was built with a continuous line of planting boxes attached to the top. They are mounted in sections about three feet long and a foot wide and deep. Sounds ideal; but they didn’t provide drainage. “Like a bathtub without a plug,” quipped one of my neighbours.
In fact, the arrangement moves from one extreme to the other: parched-dry on the south side and pools on the northeast end which collects water draining off the building from the floors above.
Still, I’m always up for a challenge. I set about replenishing the soil with a mix recommended by Mel Bartholomew, the square-foot gardening guru. I drained the boggy bits and watered the dry parts.
The garden I left behind with my house was mostly shaded by mature trees which limited my plant choice. With all that sunshine, I determined to grow veggies as well as flowers. Books like Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail were inspiring. She turns every available corner on balcony, stoops and window sills into an opportunity for food production.
I planted chard, radishes, zucchini, beans, tomatoes, basil, oregano and sorrel. Dusty miller interspersed petunias and geraniums in pots. Some of it worked and some of it didn’t; gardens are like that. New ventures offer so many learning opportunities, don’t they?
The chard and beans produced very little. Powdery mildew took out flourishing zucchini plants midway through summer and a hail storm pummeled off three quarters of the blooming branches from one of my tomato plants. On the up side, the radishes and herbs were very successful.
This year I’m using fewer plants in these forbidding boxes and have planted my veggies in pots which I can shelter against the warm brick of the building. I’m hoping that the tomatoes will be especially pleased with this treatment. Gardeners are always hoping.
If you are gardening with containers, there’s lots of inspiration online. Canadian Gardening offers many articles. Jim Hole designs succulent and water gardens and offers plant lists for both. Bonus.
And, of course, the library has wonderful books on the topic. And that's my next blog.