Plants in the City: How To Grow an Eco Balcony in a Small Space

It’s time for the next instalment of Plants in the City from Jackie Bruce! This month, we’ve got a very exciting project starting for the team at Cosmopolita Scotland. Jackie has agreed to help me (English editor Alex Owen­-Hill) and my partner to design a space-­friendly “Eco Balcony” in the balcony of our flat. It’s a challenge, but I’m sure it’s going to look great!

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Jackie Bruce

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A rainbow over Arthur’s Seat seen from the soon-to-be-Eco Balcony.
I feel very excited to have been entrusted with creating an Eco Balcony in an amazing listed 1950s building in Edinburgh. The building has wonderful views over Carlton Hill. It is also within walking distance of the Royal Botanic Gardens, a place with particular significance for me as I had the wonderful privilege to do part of my horticulture training there.

I was brought up in Edinburgh and was totally amazed to discover this building for the first time. It’s like going into a time warp. The building has a secret courtyard, which is overlooked by all the flats. Some of the other flats in the building are maisonettes, which have one large long open balcony and an upper balcony coming from the master bedroom. We have only one balcony to work with, but it will be more than enough to grow some wonderful plants.

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I took this picture was last month in the polytunnel at work, when a bee was enjoying the nectar from the violas. Don’t worry about cold weather. As long as everything is protected from the frost, it will be fine and will catch up.

Getting Going With Green Growing

The gardening potential for the building and courtyard overwhelms me. As soon as I saw it I started imagining all the possibilities and community garden opportunities which could be created there. Alex and Azu are keen to have a green haven in the centre of the city where they can grow salads, herbs and flowers to encourage bees and pollinating insects. They will be able to harvest food for the kitchen, as cooking is another of their passions.

The weather in April wasn’t favourable for seeds planted outside, but May has started to brighten up. The best way to begin the seeds for the Eco Balcony would be to plant the seeds, such as salad and herbs, and root veg inside on a window ledge or near a window.

To get off to a good start, plant as much as you have space for: Mixed salad leaves, rocket, parsley, coriander, sage, rosemary, thyme, carrots, beetroot, parsnips… Another very important aspect of the Eco Balcony, of course, is that there have to be some lovely flowers for pollinators. Having bees and insects in your outside living space creates a wonderful, positive aura all around your home.

The Positive Value of Green Space

[cml_media_alt id='6832']ecobalconyMaySeedTrays[/cml_media_alt]The positive effects of even the smallest amount of green space can transform your whole feeling of wellbeing and happiness. There is a lot of research material which shows this. Green health is a fascinating subject, which I have been studying recently in relation to my work at Tiphereth. Biophilia is the interconnection between man and nature, the effects of this interaction and the positive ways in which it can change our feelings from depression to positivity.

If you have space for a small greenhouse, great. If not you can create a mini greenhouse by simply covering a small shelf unit with polythene or bubble wrap. You don’t have to spend lots of money to grow food and flowers.

A few full seed trays of plants will grow into a wonderful spectacle inside a small space and make you long for next season so that you can do it all again. After a few seasons you may never have to buy salad again. I have chosen the particular seeds below because they are easy to grow and very useful.

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Another great crop is potatoes in a sack. I remember digging up my first potato crop and feeling like I had found buried treasure. An old gardener once told me that you can grow potatoes from a single piece of potato skin with an eye on it. I haven’t tried this method but, like him, I feel there is too much fussing sometimes. I don’t go by the chitting method myself, where you allow the potatoes to sprout before planting. I prefer to just get them into the soil and keep them well watered. We must remember that plants are like us, they have a will to survive. Given good conditions they should thrive.

In time, we shall create a wonderful space in this balcony in the city. It will inspire and encourage guests and visitors to try large or small scale green adventures in nature.

Flowers can mix with the edible greens and also there are a lot of edible flowers, Calendula, Viola, Iris, Borage, Nasturtium, and lots more which will crop up in later columns. I would also love to write more about the healing properties of plants. It tells us a lot when most of the edible plants and healing herbs are also the pollinators favourites. The interconnection is fascinating.

The First Step: Grass!

In our upcoming columns, we will have some pictures charting the progression of the Eco balcony through the weeks. For now though, the first step the guys took was to clear up the balcony, give it a lick of paint and put down a lovely carpet of fake grass. I suggested they put a bed of small stones underneath, for drainage. They found some for free on Freecycle, from a couple who were replacing the stones in their garden with grass. They drove the stones back in a load of blue IKEA bags and carried them up four flights of stairs!

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Photos by Jackie Bruce and Alex Owen-Hill. Cover artwork adapted from photo by Oliver Wendel.

Autor: Jackie Bruce

Jackie Bruce is a horticulturist who works at the Tiphereth Camphill community. She writes the Plants in the City column for Cosmopolita Scotland, which gives a fun guide to growing plants in small spaces.

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