Case study with Mr C. Here is simplified version of a case study from an ebook I wrote.
The book is called Zero Commitment Urban Gardening.
Balcony in Lichtenberg. Very dry, very shady. Mr C. has a busy work life and doesn't have much time to garden. He wants a relaxing place for himself and friends but his balcony looks like this
Solution: painted up the space, added structures like trellis and wall mounted boxes. Added low maintenance plants called Sedums. You cannot kill Sedums they refuse to die. Just try it! (they are only 3€ each anyway)
So above is the finished result.
How to do it?
I broke the process down. Here it is:
Clean and chuck:
Decide if you want to paint or change the floor. What do you want to keep? what do you want to chuck?
The thing that will make the biggest difference to how your balcony looks is the floor. Do you want to paint it? add tiles? add matting?
for small spaces I suggest using simple wooden click tiles from Ikea or Bauhaus because they are affordable and easy to install. The click tiles look like this (minus the feet!)
Next to think about: the walls. Do you want to paint them? painting with outdoor paint makes a big difference to how things look. You can get a custom mix of outdoor paint in your local hardware store for quite a reasonable price in any colour you want. This is a start to making your balcony really 'you'.
So you are cleaned and painted. Possibly floored. Now you are ready to:
Make a simple drawing of what you want to achieve before starting the work. All you need is a rough sketch. If you hate drawing use an online tool like Canva to help out.
If you are a word person write it out. If you are a numbers person head to the spread sheets.
However you approach it, consider these points:
This will affect your choice of plants.
How many hours of sun do you get per day in Summer?
More than 4 hrs is considered full sun.
Less than 4 hrs is considered full shade.
Get plants adapted to your light levels.
It should say the light preference of the plant on the plant label - get the name of the plant before you buy.
how much to spend and how do you want to spend it?
all at once or gradually?
How much time do you have to give your plants? be realistic. If you want to grow demanding plants like tomatoes they are going to need watering everyday and feeding every 2 weeks. If you have less time then pick plants with low care needs like these Sedums (yes more Sedums, like the ones in the photo below) these will only need water once a week in hot weather and require no feeding.
Also you don't need to do everything at once. Every season you can take another step forward in your plan and adjust it as you go along-it's up to you.
Get your chosen structures before even thinking about plants. Keep the structures simple by sticking to 1 or 2 colours and one style. Make best use of vertical surfaces on your balcony by putting up a trellis or horizontally mounted boxes. Do you want furniture? there's no need to spend crazy amounts of money. Even boring Ikea things can look great when surrounded by the plants you love. The important thing is to get structures first. maybe you need something huge like this pergola I planned for a terrace in Schoneberg:
next get the best soil you can afford and get more than you think you need.
Get soil before plants- your plant is mostly roots and soil is the most important thing in it's life.
Torf Frei (peat free) compost is the best for most plants because it's less acidic and contains more nutrients than peat based compost.
Peat actually contains no nutrients but provides drainage and texture that roots grow well in. That is why it is an important ingredient in compost. Sadly the production of compost with peat in it is problematic (bear in mind as I am writing this I have a 70 litre bag of peat in my shed) because the peat is actually torn up from threatened wetland habitats.
Good Torf Frei compost: you can get this delivered from your local hardware shop so that you don't have to drag nine 40 litre bags of compost up your stairs.
The secret: just get 3 types of plant. Keep it simple! what I mean:
get as many plants as you want but just of 3 chosen species.
If you get a plant from the garden centre for your outdoor space there is a chance it has not been acclimatised for the cooler/hotter/windier/dryer/greyer conditions on your balcony.
leave sensitive plants (those that are sold under the protection of a roof when in the garden centre) a day or so outside in their existing pots before planting out.
At night take them inside your house. After 2 days of this treatment you can leave them out overnight without worries. For tougher plants that were already displayed for sale in an outdoor sales section go right ahead and plant them out. They are fine.
Garden center treats
Advice for right now:
This advice is particularly relevant for the early Spring months when days are sunny and nights are cold.
Research anything before you buy. That's what we do with everything else- do it with plants too. Impulse buys are buys that die!
Garden centres often sell plants in full flower to attract the customer with colour.
A full flowering plant is often at the end of its life so when you get home and transplant it not only will it be shocked by the move, it will also be ready to pack up and die because it is DONE anyway.
Flowers are there to seduce and when the seduction is done the plant makes seeds and dies.
YOU want to look at the plant and enjoy the flowers. The flower wants to make seeds and die.
This is a a conflict of interests.
Compromise: remove any dead or dying flowers to encourage your plants to keep flowering. Purchase plants before they flower. Get plants that fit your conditions rather than trying to force plants into conditions that don't suit them just because the flower looks so stunning in the shop.
A note on watering:
in hot weather water your balcony plants early in the morning or late at night.
Avoid watering in the hot sunny hours because the water will evaporate off the surface of the soil very fast before it can reach the plant's roots.
Consider the container: small containers dry out fast and large ones not so fast. Most small shrubs in deep containers need much less water than people give them and these wet conditions can cause root rot. Lavender in particular likes a deep container for its roots and a dry sandy soil.
Solution: avoid root rot. Let your trees and small shrubs in deeper containers dry out between waterings.
And that's it, the abbreviated (though still quite long for a blog post) version of a case study from my ebook Zero Commitment Urban Gardening. I am happy to share this book with you for free as a reward for getting the end of this epic post- just send me your email address. 48 pages of gardening- with no garden!
Zero Commitment Urban Gardening- by Sophie Iremonger 2023.