Plants can flourish where once there was no soil.
Nicholas Faiz’s high-rise garden is about to shoot. Last year, he moved into a city apartment with a large, hot, north-facing balcony. “I’m on the top story of a building and there’s bare concrete and glass towers all around me,” he says.
But now he’s got greenery for company too, including jacaranda, lemon, mulberry, avocado and feijoa trees, as well as herbs, strawberries, roses, geraniums and a passionfruit vine.
“I’m really looking forward to spring and summer because they’ll get lots of growth,” Mr Faiz says. “The garden really makes a big difference. I’ve installed four seats out there and it’s quite pleasant now.”
Balcony garden designer Cecilia Macaulay says that small spaces and lack of existing soil shouldn’t deter apartment or terrace-house green thumbs. “I think balcony gardens are more desirable than normal gardens because everything is a metre away from your gaze,” she says. “You see changes everyday.”
Start your new garden by deciding where to put seating. “I think a table and chairs are essential, so you spend time there. It’s an ecosystem and humans are vital,” Ms Macaulay says.
Next, choose the largest pots you can – they’ll better store moisture and nutrients. Plan for a constant supply of water, such as a small pond or a bucket you always refill. “If there’s no ready-to-go water on the balcony, the plants are doomed,” she says. “It’s just a matter of time.”
Sunnier north- and west-facing balconies will produce more food, but the plants will be thirstier. To check whether they need a drink, use wooden chopsticks. “Keep a stash on hand,” Ms Macaulay says. “Stick them in and see if the soil is crumbling off, or it’s moist and clingy. It should be nice and moist like a cake.”
She also recommends Wetpots, a super-efficient watering system in which porous pots are buried in the soil and gravity fed from a small water tank.
Container gardening can be tricky. “Strong plants can fight off many pests, but they need the right nutrients and enough water to do so. In nature, they can put down deeper roots, but on a balcony, they depend on what you supply them,” Ms Macaulay says.
“My favourite for balconies are fig trees, because they’re beautiful and pests aren’t interested in their tough leaves. Persimmon trees are really good too.”
She warns that tomatoes can take some trial and error, especially if it’s windy. It’s easiest to begin your plot with herbs and leafy greens. “Rocket is irrepressible. Plant seeds every few weeks so you’ve always got a new batch coming up.”
Don’t forget to put a worm farm in a shady corner. The worms will recycle your food scraps into fertiliser. They’ll help to make your garden more self-sufficient and boost your harvest. And all that equals happiness: a thriving balcony garden is guaranteed to bring you joy.
“The excitement that you feel when your pot plant gives you a bean – it’s beautiful,” Ms Macaulay says.