The biggest challenge of growing fresh fruit and vegetables on a balcony garden is space. But there are things you can do to make the most of limited space.
This means thinking about how you combine plants, choosing plants that offer more than one attraction and making greater use of the walls.
Use these tips to turn your empty balcony into an oasis of greenery where plants thrive and give you great harvests throughout the growing season.
- Layer your planting
Without soil under foot you’re going to rely on containers. For this reason in a balcony garden the main trick to getting maximum yields is how you use containers. The key way is to layer bulbs and seeds in each pot.
This not only saves space but creates something to look at (and harvest) all season long – or at least for longer than one plant alone.
When you use layering you can get the benefit of beautiful flowers and useful vegetables. The aim is to plant combinations that work one after the other over the season.
In the spring, plant summer bulbs at the deepest level of the container. Good examples would be spring onion or garlic to give you excellent flavours for adding to summer suppers.
At the top of the container, plant annual flowers like impatiens or poppies. You can enjoy the flowers knowing that when they’ve finished flowering the vegetables will be getting ready to sprout.
- Edible flowers
Flowers can make a balcony garden beautiful, but a colourful balcony full of edible flowers is twice as nice and saves space too. As well as surrounding yourself with plants that look good you know you’re creating something good to eat. And they’re sure to raise a comment from your guests.
Edible flowers have been used in cooking and garnishes for centuries and they still add an instant burst of summer to a dish.
The most appealing edible flowers are marigolds (Calendula) which look wonderful sprinkled on soups, rice and salad. They add a spicy, peppery flavour but it’s how they look that says Summer. For a lighter clove scent use carnation petals, especially for desserts or cake decorations.
On a balcony you can make friends with the gardener’s enemy – dandelions. Pick them small and young for a taste like honey and eat them raw or steamed. When you pick them straight from the balcony they couldn’t be crisper.
Of course with anything destined for the table it’s important never to use pesticides so this applies to edible flowers too.
On a balcony garden think about planting upwards
- Vertical gardening
When you don’t have acres of land the solution is to plant upwards. When you embrace this method you can easily double the amount of space you think your balcony garden could provide.
One of the simplest things you can employ is a trellis, which has been the gardener’s friend for centuries. It’s still one of the best space-saving structures for balcony-gardening. You can find a trellis in many different shapes and sizes so you can tailor the use of space to fit your particular balcony.
There’s even less of a ‘footprint’ when several climbing plants share a trellis. Popular plants that romp away on a trellis are peas, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and strawberries.
An exciting development for vertical gardening is the use of pocket planters. The big advantage that they provide over a trellis is that you can organise individual plants as opposed to leaving the space to fill with vine plants. There’s a risk that vine plants may sprawl if left untended and block the sun from neighbouring plants. Pocket planters are supremely practical and look really good when overflowing with foliage.
Another option for a vertical garden is ladder shelves leaning against the wall. The graduating steps provide an equal amount of sunlight for each plant. And they look good even when there’s little foliage.
Good plants for ladder gardening include onions, carrots, beets, chard, radishes, spinach and salad greens.
Among the options for a balcony garden, shelving offers a unique opportunity. With so many shelves you’re creating an informal home not just for plants but for subtle garden objets to add the character often lacking on urban balconies.