Gardening for small outdoor spaces

CHERYL MADDOCKS
Last updated 13:54 02/11/2012
gardening
SPACE-FRIENDLY GARDEN: Vegetables and herbs are easy to grow in pots.

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Once a gardener, always a gardener. When gardening gets into your blood, it stays there.

So, as baby boomers become empty nesters and downsize to apartments, they are using balconies instead of backyards to indulge their passion for plants.

Wherever they live, gardeners need a connection with nature. Consequently, many city dwellers practise high-rise horticulture as they transform balconies into gorgeous green areas.

Like gardens, balconies have their own micro-climates. Wind can be a big problem for apartment blocks, as it batters plants, dries them out quickly and blows over pots.

Large pots and troughs work best on windy balconies because they don't dry out as rapidly as smaller ones.

Water pot plants frequently, even daily in hot weather, as dry potting mix becomes lighter and makes pots more prone to blowing over. You might need to tie your pots to the balcony railing to keep them secure.

Using wire is an unobtrusive approach.

A mulch of pebbles will help retain moisture in pots.

Plastic pots have better water retention than terracotta, so a cunning approach is to plant in a plastic pot and use a larger, more attractive terracotta container as a sleeve.

Alternatively, spray the inside of terracotta pots with a sealant to help retain moisture. You'll have a much wider choice of plants if you can provide shelter.

Attach a piece of clear Perspex inside the balustrade to prevent wind hitting plants below railing height.

You shouldn't put pot plants in the "too hard" basket just because you have a hot, windy balcony.

The simple answer is to choose plants that aren't prima donnas.

Select from bay trees, olive trees, oleander, bird of paradise (Strelitizia reginae), Yucca elephantipes, cabbage tree, flax, hebe, Lomandra cultivars, dianellas, westringia, rosemary, and lavender (check out the newly released, pink flowering lavender 'Bella Rouge').

All these plants will tolerate exposed conditions. Pots of succulents, especially Agave attenuata, will also work well.

Look to see what grows beside the road or on roundabouts in your area, as these plants will be tough enough for windy balconies.

If your balcony faces north or west it will be affected by hot sun.

This can be good news, especially if the balcony isn't wind prone, as you'll have a huge plant choice. You can grow herbs and vegetables, and have petunias and nasturtiums billowing from urns or hanging baskets. Geraniums will supply colour for months.

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A wall can be cooled by covering it with greenery. Stretch wire diagonally or in patterns across the wall and train a climber on it.

Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) will produce a blanket of greenery on a sunny or semi-shaded wall. The summer flowers also have a heady fragrance.

Newly released climbing Mandevilla 'Pretty White' presents large, white flowers for months.

You can also buy systems to decorate walls.

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