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Balcony Gardening

In July 2013, I moved to a new flat. My room is small, but there is a nice balcony attached to it, facing south, inviting in as much sunshine as possible. It's such a waste to just hang clothes on such a good place. I asked myself: why not build a small garden here?

So I decide to start this gardening program. However, I really had no idea what to do and how to do at that time. Well, never mind, my determination was strong. Determination is always important. Sometimes, success or failure, depends on determination. I have had some success in totally new areas which I was unfamiliar with. Some experiences could be referenced. This time I can learn by doing.

Preparation

First of all, I turn to google for help. See how other people do with their balcony gardening will help a lot. There’s a tip during this googling process: stick on the aim. When you use google, it is very likely to be distracted by some search results, which are unrelated but interesting, such as beautiful pictures, funny stories, cool videos, etc. Write down a question list will help a lot. Here is an example: ‘How do others’ gardens look like? What are their plans? What do they need? What do they do? What are the right steps? Etc.’ Stay focus on what you’re originally searching for, do not waste time and spirit on unrelated subjects.

After googling, one sad conclusion came to me: it is very difficult to build a garden with a balcony. The growing of plants need three important things: water, air and sunshine. The situation was: every one of these three important factors was in poor condition. Since I don’t own this flat, I cannot change the water supply system without permission. So instead of automatic watering, I should carry water to the plants every time. Well it is OK with me during ordinary days, but my job requires me frequently go on business trips, and during holidays I usually pay visits to friends and family. So plants might get in to a situation of lacking of water. There’re windows on my balcony, which I think could supply enough air, but the question is, air flow (or wind) is not much. It is said that plants might easily become susceptible to pests under improper ventilation. And talking about sunshine, I thought the sunshine was good, but the fact turned out that not every corner could get sunshine, and the time sunshine directly stays in the balcony is just about 4 hours, during other times it’s only light. Besides water, air and sunshine, plants need medium to grow. In most cases, the medium would be soil. Soil weighs a lot. Too much weight will definitely damage the floor. Last but not the least, balcony means small space, space limits the size of a garden.

Difficult doesn’t mean impossible. With a strong determination, I still decided to continue this gardening program. Though I needed to do some modifications with my final goal. A garden I may not have, but I still can build a place with bright green leaves, beautiful flowers and pleasant fragrant.

In order to avoid the shortages of my balcony, I needed some certain tools first. I purchased a simple and small device on the internet which can automatically water plants, it’s based on siphon principle. I also purchased some materials which can keep water well and used as medium to replace soil. And these materials I purchased happened to be very light. Coco peat, turf, vermiculite and pearlite, these are the very materials I use. I mixed them with controlled release fertilizer. Of course, a shovel is needed to do the mixing and flower pots are required to hold the mixture. I have two plans to deal with small space. Plan A: use the space outside the window. This required a little transformation of the facades structure. Well, again, I am not the owner of the property, and the owner did not agree with any physical alternation with the property, thus I had to turn to Plan B. Plan B: use a flower shelf. The advantage of a flower shelf is that it’s cheaper comparing to Plan A and it’s easily to install. The shortage is that although it expands some space, it is still in a limit. However, this is a working plan. About sunshine and air, I did not work out any particular plan to solve the problems. I talked to my friends about my trouble. His words awoke me. ‘You’re worrying too much. Plants are strong, they grow everywhere on earth. Don’t judge too early.’ Yes! That’s right. Just carry on the program, deal with the problems when they appear. You can never list every problem or risk that may happen before a project. Not mention to work out a perfect solution.

So my preparation works were done. The next important and exciting question was: what shall I plant?

Planting

As a beginner of botany and gardening, I was feeling like to try every favorite kind of plants. I’d like to have my own view of those beautiful internet pictures on my balcony. But reason told me that would not work. Under my condition, there were several limits which limited my choices. So the candidate plants should be ——small, heliophilous (but not too heliophilous), and strong (immunity to pest and disease).

After consideration, at last, I chose several shrub, bulbs and herb.

Shrub

Talking about shrub, it is jasmine and roses I actually chose. Jasmine is a very good choice. bought a grown-up one from the botany market. It grows all the summer, and blossoms almost every month. It usually starts to blossom at night, and fully blossomed at dawn. As the process goes on, the fragrance of jasmine gradually releases, fulfills the balcony. First, it is light fresh fragrance you smell, then it is deep sweet aroma, finally, you get drunk in the breath of jasmine. It is a delight and relaxing journey to enjoy jasmine. I plant my jasmine in a one gallon pot, and water it about once a day. Jasmine loves sunlight and water, and grows better with fertilization. I sprayed it with diluted NPK solution about every 10 days. But when it’s ready to blossom, I stop the fertilizer. Because giving fertilizer during flowering period may accelerate the process of withering. After flower fading, it needs pruning, so that it can grow new branches and blossom more flowers. Luckily, my jasmine grows very healthily. It didn’t get sick or take infected with pests.

Generally speaking, it is very easy to plant jasmine, while it is somehow difficult to plant roses. I’ve fallen in love with roses since I was a little kid. I’ve always dreamed about having my own rose garden. But as I researched the data on line, I found out that roses are not easy to plant, especially on balcony. Though roses share some similar habits with jasmine, such as the very strong needs of sunlight, water and fertilizer, the requirement of space is quite different, and there are many diseases and pests that may affect roses easily. A rose is a shrub or vine. If it is a vine, large space is required (imagining roses on the old castle walls), if it is a shrub, the size might grow to one cubic meter at least. There’re at least 10 common diseases or pests I’ve read about on line, not mention those I haven’t read yet. So it’s quite a tough decision to choose roses. At last I still yelled to my childhood dream.

In order to solve the problem of small space, I chose rose plantlets instead of buying grown-up ones. Plantlets they’re called, still, they need one gallon pot each. When they’re fully grown up, seven gallon pots are required. I’m not sure how long I will stay in this flat and I’m not sure how fast they will grow. Think about strategies later when difficulties happen.

Comparing jasmine’s single white and single smell, the colors and fragrance of roses vary a lot. I chose white, red, pink, yellow and purple kinds, and they process the fragrance of old classic rose, myrrh, and fruity.

The process of planting roses is a really hard one. I’ve met almost every common problem. Luckily there are guides and tips other people shared on line which I can follow step by step. I am still learning now.

With the hard work, roses gave great awards in return. Even the plantlets can blossom beautiful flowers. Although a bit smaller than standard size, the flowers were quite lovely and exuded charming aroma.

Next year, I will change bigger pots for the roses. It is best doing this work in spring. Because in spring, roots grow fast, with good roots, roses grow fast and strong.

Bulbs

Bulbs are good. And please allow me to recommend bulbs as best choice for balcony gardening. Because these kinds of plants store nutrients in the bulbs, so they do not have to be buried in the pots during their sleeping period, which save a lot of space. The growing period varies with kinds. Some favors cold winter, while others prefer warm spring or autumn. Not many bulbs grow in summer, but if their bulbs are big enough, which means enough nutrients, it’s possible to grow in summer too. In general, the larger the bulb is, the larger the flower will be.

Bulbs are also easy to plant. They do not need much specific care, because they have already stored enough nutrients to blossom. But if you want them to blossom year after year, you should let them restore nutrients to the bulbs. Here’s one important thing you should remember: do not cut off the leaves or dig out the bulbs after flowers withering. Photosynthesis, which produce nutrients which they can store in the bulbs, require leaves.

Herb

I chose lavenders for my herb planting practice, started with seeds. Herb seeds such as lavenders are quite small and light. It’s almost impossible to pick up one with your fingers. Here’s a tip (which I learned from internet), find a small thin stick, such as tooth picker, put it in the water to wet the pointy end, use the pointy end to pick up the seed.

Small seeds usually do not need too much water. In fact, too much water might cause the seeds go moldy, which is deadly. So there are usually two ways to plant such small seeds. The first way is plant the seeds together in a pot, after germinating, dig them out and separate them into different pots. The second way is plant the seeds separately at the beginning, using a smaller container, when they grow bigger, transplant to bigger pots. I chose the latter one.

I use nursery blocks, which are made of turf. Put the blocks in a box with transparent cover, so that it’s easy to control air, sunlight and humidity. I transplanted them when I saw roots growing out of the nursery blocks.

Gardening

How do you define gardening? With no doubt, planting will be a very important part. But there must be something more.

Now I have lots of different kinds of plants, but I won’t call it gardening until I put them together in a harmonious way. That’s what I did. I also cut them a lot to keep them in fit shaping. Gardening is an art. It’s like drawing a picture without a pen. But you have elements to compose the picture: plants, views around the plants and other small ornaments. And the potential growing of plants promises infinite future varies.

Plants have their own willing to grow. Some people use methods to make plants grow against their own way to make certain shape. What they’ve done might because of the chase of gardening art, but I don’t think I appreciate it too much. I personally like the nature way better.

After all, nature way does serve well for balcony gardening.

Gardening | Health


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