When I realized that it was time for me to retire in earnest (I had tried it, at least, twice before and missed working), I began to search for a condo unit. I decided that having access to the outdoors was important in the choice of a building since I had enjoyed many years of gardening.
I saw a unit with a small balcony where I could read, eat lunch, and watch the moon cross the sky at night. I knew this was it — not the “great outdoors,” but touches of green on the balcony would provide some solace for the garden I knew I would miss — and a lot less work. Alas, after my first few failures, I realized that I had a lot of learning to do.
One of the most important factors when designing your garden, and one over which you have no control, is the amount of sun and light that is available. If the balcony faces south, your first inclination may be to put in plants that require full sun. However, very few balconies have sun or shade throughout the day. The light often shifts, at times blocked by buildings and/or trees as it moves across the sky. Watch what happens with the light through the day and tailor your selections accordingly – full sun, part sun, shade. Whether you are buying plants from a nursery or planting seeds, the light requirements will be clearly listed since this is so vital for your plants’ survival. If you’re not sure, don’t hesitate to ask the experts. Most people work in nurseries because they love plants, love to see them thrive, and love to help others.
Since the space in question is relatively small, invest in good-quality soil, preferably with slow release fertilizer. The season is not very long, so it may not be necessary to fertilize again until next year. Follow regular watering and feeding routines to get the best results. Watering cans are fine, or try the 30’ recoil hose with a nozzle from the hardware store that can be attached to the kitchen faucet. I also found this very useful to hose down the balcony.
On my little balcony I get full sun for a couple of hours and as the sun moves across the sky the shade moves across the balcony. At the sunniest part I have a planter with herbs and semi-shade plants on the other. I’m also toying with getting one of those small tomato plants to see how that will do. I really enjoy the pretty greens and lovely aromas of the herbs, and I use them to flavor the fresh vegetables that are available all summer. If you keep the containers fairly small you may be able to take them indoors for the winter.
Finally, this year I indulged in a small table-top indoor/outdoor fountain that I bought on the web. It won’t be quite like sitting at the beach or on a mountain top, but the sound of the fountain, the sight of the plants, and the aromas of the herbs are about as close as I can get from my apartment. Happy summer and happy gardening!