Gardening on a Patio or Balcony

Gardening on a patio or balcony

By Mark Cullen

Approaching the garden design of a balcony or patio requires the same approach as any other garden project. Think about how you want to use the space, first and foremost.  

  • Do you wish for privacy? Use the wall space available to you. A fence supports climbing vines just as well as a brick wall.
     
  • Do you need to reserve space for food prep (a BBQ) and the like? Carve this space out before you fill the area with pots and plants.
     
  • Would you like to harvest food from your small yard or balcony? Herbs, compact vegetables and wall-growing fruit can provide a surprising quantity of fresh food.  
     
  • Are you exposed to street noise from your outdoor space? If so, consider a water feature that moves water, distracting your attention from the sound of traffic.
     
  • Do you have an exceptional view? If so, enhance it and draw attention to it through your ‘garden’ design.

As you contemplate the answers to these questions, we have these suggestions for you to consider:

Plant small

Hanging baskets or pots, ‘window boxes’ and other wall mounted planters can help you to maximize the produce that you harvest from small spaces. For tasty greens plant leaf lettuce from seed, spinach, basil, Oriental greens and pea shoots. Many of these can be replanted or sown 2 or 3 times through the gardening season.

Look for ‘Compact’ or ‘dwarf’ plants

Many ornamental plants that we are familiar with are available in forms that do not mature into monsters. If you like lilacs look for ‘Korean Spice Lilac’, apples: shop for true dwarf varieties only, most of them grafted on a ‘Malling 26’ root stock, in the world of evergreens consider Mugho pine (pruned annually), dwarf Alberta Spruce, dwarf Nest spruce and a myriad of slow growing plants too numerous to name here. Ask the experts where you shop.

Mix and match

One of the benefits of gardening in this day and age is that there are no rules about where you grow stuff. This new generation of gardeners is teaching all of us to plant ornamentals with edibles. Grow a cherry tomato ‘Sweet One Million’ with your petunias and let them intertwine. Calendula mixed with Gazania (calendula being edible), snapdragons and chives, roses and onions.

Use ‘ornamental edibles’

We use this term to describe veggies that look great in the garden. Swiss chard ‘Northern Lights’, sweet potato vine ‘Lime’, nasturtiums, purple basil and ornamental kale are all edible and look great.

Plant compact vegetables

Patio tomato, summer squash, radishes, cucumber ‘Fanfare’, eggplant ‘Fairy Tale’, spring onions, and mesclun mix all work well in confined space.

Go vertical

Roses climb, as do honeysuckle, wisteria, bittersweet, hardy kiwi (to zone 2 - Edmonton!), clematis and the list goes on. In addition to natural climbers that either twine themselves up a trellis or ‘self cling’ their way up a wall or fence you can train a dwarf apple into two dimensions by pruning the outward facing growth. The French call this ‘espalier’. It is not difficult, and it is a lot of fun.

Intense soil

If you intensify your garden and expect great performance from the plants, you must use quality soil or the results will speak for themselves.  We replace the soil in our containers every year (good advice for all gardeners). The soil that you grew plants in last year is used up.  When choosing soil for your containers, be sure to use a quality mix like ProMix, Mark’s Choice Container mix or C-I-L.

Containers

When selecting containers, remember this. You must like the look of it.  Chances are you will be looking at it empty for much of the year.  When it is full of foliage, bloom and fruit it should compliment the plants that you put it in as well as its’ surroundings. Be sure that containers have adequate drainage and that the water has somewhere to drain to other than your neighbour’s balcony below.   
 

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